New York Times sportswriter Araton (Alive and Kicking, 2001, etc.) charts the steady decline of the NBA while holding a torch for its eventual renaissance.
In the wake of an unprecedented brawl between players and fans at a Detroit Pistons–Indiana Pacers game in November 2004, the author elegizes the NBA of Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and attempts to explain the current state of affairs. Rather than assert that the players of today are merely worse-mannered than their predecessors, Araton offers a social and economic account. Pervasive greed, he claims, has distorted the basketball landscape beyond recognition. His expansive argument leaves no level of competition untouched: Youth teams forsake teaching for marketing, colleges sell their integrity for television revenue, corporate sponsors use lucrative endorsements to tempt players to prematurely leave college and high school. The NBA brass, meanwhile, turn a blind eye to these trends as long as they remain profitable for the league as a whole. While Araton’s “a pox on both your houses” rhetoric can be wearisome, there’s no denying the kernel of truth in his claims. The only thing missing is an explanation of why fans have put up with a sport in crisis for so long.
More than the usual lament for the good old days.