first_imgSN: It seems that today’s game would be perfect for what you were in Seattle and Indiana. But it sounds like you prefer the way the game was played 25 years ago. Is that right?SP: “I am biased to what the style of play was when I was playing. Today’s generation would not know what I am talking about when I say that we used the 3-pointers as strategy. They can’t relate to what the style of play was before. My nephews and daughters, they love basketball now because they don’t know anything else — pick-and-roll, drive-and-kick, 3-pointers.”For me, it’s a little different because I watch and I think, ‘Come on, strategize. Get inside. Take him in, get the easy 2 and get fouled.’ The game has evolved into pick-and-rolls and pop-out 3s, which is fine. But sometimes it makes you turn the TV off.” MORE: Hall of Famers sound off on Anthony Davis dramaHow has the 3-pointer affected the game? How about defensive rule changes? How would you fit into today’s game if you were playing now? Why are there so many triple-doubles?All these questions were front-of-mind when sitting down with these NBA greats (special thanks to the National Basketball Retired Players Association), and the answers were fascinating. One guy would like to be Anthony Davis. Another thinks he’d be Giannis Antetokounmpo. Yet another thinks he’d shoot 50 percent from the 3-point line in today’s game.Here’s what they had to say…Dave Cowens: ‘You can’t guard them. You can’t touch them.’Cowens and fellow Hall of Famer Abdul-Jabbar saw each other in a ballroom in a Charlotte hotel last month and, immediately, the faces of both lit up. Cowens and Abdul-Jabbar played against each other 36 times in their careers, and while Abdul-Jabbar took advantage of Cowens in his first years in the NBA, over time, the matchup evened out.”No one was tougher on the court than Dave Cowens,” Abdul-Jabbar told Sporting News. “No one played harder.”Cowens played 10 seasons with the Celtics — he later made one attempt at a comeback with Milwaukee in 1982 — and was on the floor for Rockets-Celtics in the Boston Garden on Oct. 12, 1979. That game is remembered as Larry Bird’s debut, but more important, it featured the first made 3-pointer in NBA history, a shot by Chris Ford.Oct. 12, 1979 @Celtics Chris Ford makes @NBAHistory when he sinks the first-ever @NBA 3-pointer. Ford made 70 of 164 that season (.427%)— NBA History (@NBAHistory) October 12, 2016″I don’t think it was a designed play,” Cowens said. “It just kind of happened. I believe it was Nate Archibald who threw him the ball, so he got the assist on the first 3-pointer ever.”But the game would never be the same after that.MORE: 2018-19 Celtics are stuck on destructive carouselSN: When you saw that first 3-point shot being made, could you have imagined it would have changed the game to the extent it has changed now?DC: “My thought on the 3-point shot then and now has not changed. My philosophy then was that they should allow the 3-pointer in the fourth quarter only. Allow the whole game to be played like we’ve been playing it forever, but the reason the 3-pointer was put in was to keep the fan interest up until the end of the game.”Now, it has gotten to the point where it is almost at the extreme level of the utilization of the shot. It is, basically, dramatically, as much as any other rule change, changed the way the game looks and the way it is played and the emphasis that is put on certain types of players in the game. It goes from having a game when I played, there were very few layups, to now maybe 30 layups in a game because everything is so wide open. Your help defenses just can’t get there in time.”SN: If you were playing now, could you be a guy who would shoot 3s?DC: “I took perimeter shots, too, and if I was playing today and I practiced 3-pointers, which I used to do, I could shoot 3-pointers. I could shoot 35 percent from the 3. Not a big deal. Most of those shots are not guarded, especially when a big guy is taking them. Small guy, it’s a little bit different. You’re more guarded. But big guys, you can shoot pretty much wide open.”SN: Could you guard the 3-point line?DC: “Oh, sure. My quickness was one of the attributes I had, one of the things I was born with. I was naturally quick and fast. I had good balance, and I was pretty strong. I could cover large areas on the court. To guard the 3-pointer as a big guy, it just means you have got to be relatively close to the guy when he receives the ball.”But if your job as a center is to protect the basket, and that is what my job was, you can’t protect it and also be close to the shooter. That’s what makes that blocked shot by Zion Williamson so remarkable — he started from the paint and blocked a 3-point shot. I don’t know that I’ve seen anybody do that.”SN: We pay a lot of attention to the increase in 3-pointers. But you’ve seen the layups spike, too, compared to when you played. Why is that?DC: “Before, if you’re a guard and you’re out there with the ball and you’re looking at the basket, what’s in between you and the basket? Probably three guys. Now, there’s one guy, the one that is guarding you. That’s not the toughest guy to get by. The problem is when you get by that guy, who else is there?”Now, it’s open, so there’s not a guy at the elbow. There’s not a guy down on the block. There’s not a guy defending the basket. Those guards see that, their eyes get big. They think, ‘I can get to it.’”SN: Can’t blame them, I suppose. The rules are in their favor. There is no hand-checking. You can’t touch them on the perimeter.  DC: “You can’t guard them. You can’t touch them. Add in the whole Eurostep, which is traveling, why not call it? I don’t like the Eurostep. I think it has cheapened things a little bit, because now it gives that guy even more of an advantage. If there is a rule, enforce the rule as it is written. That’s not happening with that travel call.”Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: ‘I would want to be Anthony Davis.’Abdul-Jabbar played 20 NBA seasons, and in that time, he shot a total of 18 3-pointers, making just one of them. He smiles when it is mentioned.”That was not really something I was asked to do,” he said. No, not when you have a shot as reliable as ​Abdul-Jabbar’s skyhook, which helped him to an NBA-record 38,387 points, six MVP awards and six championships.Abdul-Jabbar says he does not watch much NBA basketball these days, but he thinks the game is in a good place, particularly from the standpoint of fan interest.”The fans are happy with the game now,” he said, “and really, that is what matters most.”MORE: Why has our view of Kareem changed so much?SN: If you were playing now, how would your game translate? Where would you fit in?KAJ: “If I were playing now, I would want to be Anthony Davis. He’s got the skill set. He shoots 3s and jump shots. He defends out there, beyond the 3-point line, and he also plays the traditional game like I did which is to say, he rebounds and guards the basket. He is the complete player.”SN: Do you like the way the game is played now? Are there too many 3-pointers?KAJ: “I think they’ve found a good balance. By lessening the physical aspects of the defense, the 3-point shot can drop. You couldn’t do it when I played because you’d have Mike Cooper biting your ear as you shot. You’re not going to make a whole lot of 3-pointers that way. You have that, the fans like it the way they’re spreading the court now, attacking the basket or stopping and popping.”I think it is an entertaining game. The fans like it, great athletes are playing it, so it works.”SN: You had 21 triple-doubles in your career. Now, triple-doubles happen nightly. Why is that?KAJ: “I think it is the rebounding. Guards can rebound now because of the way the game is played. When I played, it was rare that the little guys would get a whole lot of rebounds. The only guy I remember was Fat Lever. He would chase down the long rebounds but was rebounding in double-figures. But now, the court is spread out, so anybody can get those rebounds.”Dale Ellis: ‘Am I the best shooter ever? Yes.’At 6-7, Dale Ellis was as tough a perimeter player as the league has seen. He was in the NBA for 17 seasons and shot 40.3 percent from the 3-point line during his career, including one season (1997-98) in which he led the league with 46.4 percent 3-point shooting. Ask Ellis about where he stands in league history as a shooter, and he won’t be shy in his response.But Ellis was not always a star-caliber shooter. In his first three seasons in Dallas, the Mavs wanted him to be strictly a small forward, and with Mark Aguirre and Sam Vincent on the roster, there was not much playing time to be had for Ellis. It was not until he moved on to Seattle in 1986 that he blossomed, peaking in the 1988-89 season, when he averaged 27.5 points, shot 50.1 percent from the field and 47.8 percent from the 3-point line.And if he were playing today, he says, watch out Stephen Curry.MORE: Andre Iguodala calls Curry second-best point guard everSN: You could make an argument that some of the best shooters in NBA history are playing now. You’ve made a different argument in the past. Are you the best shooter?DE: “Am I the best shooter ever? Yes. That kid out of Marietta, Dale Ellis.”SN: You shot 40 percent for your career from the 3-point line, when defenses were much tougher. Today, that might get you into the Hall of Fame. What would you shoot from the 3-point line if you were playing now?DE: “Oh man, if I did not have a guy like Alvin Robertson or Michael Cooper holding me, hanging onto me, I would have shot 50 percent easily. You had to wrestle to get free, then catch the ball and do something with it to get your shot. Everything is more wide open now. The game would have been so much easier.”SN: But are there too many 3-pointers?DE: “I miss old-school basketball. The 3-pointer has taken the post play away, and I miss the post play. The big guys like Kareem, Kevin McHale, Hakeem Olajuwon, Tim Duncan — big guys playing the game, too, where everybody has to touch the ball. So yes, I miss old-school basketball that way.”Now, you just jack it up. There’s no such thing as a bad shot in the NBA anymore. You see some of the shot selection now, coaches would pull their hair out if you took that type of shot when I played.”SN: Those who watched you think of you as a great perimeter scorer, but you did not start out that way. When you were in Dallas (Ellis was drafted ninth by the Mavs in 1983) your first three years, you did not play much. What changed?DE: “I was a post-up player in college. I grew up watching Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. He was my favorite player, and I was out there throwing hook shots. I was drafted as a small forward. I played some power forward in college. I guarded centers. We played Virginia two years in a row in the NCAA Tournament, and I was guarding Ralph Sampson. I am trying to post up a 7-footer. I played with my back to the basket.”When I came in, they could not figure out how to use me in Dallas. I had never been a face-up player, a shooter. Those are skills I needed to work on, and I would do that all season and in the offseason. I knew I was not going to be a post-up player in the NBA. I had to learn to shoot.”Shaquille O’Neal: ‘I’m the reason they changed the rules.’What, don’t you remember Shaq, the wannabe point guard? You don’t remember Shaq’s forays to the rim, the times he led the break and flipped no-look passes to guards cutting on the wing? Well, he seems to remember — and he insists that you do, too, somewhere in your consciousness.O’Neal, of course, was known in his 19 NBA seasons for being a wrecking ball in the paint, and he averaged 23.7 points and 10.9 rebounds on his way to the Hall of Fame. But, oh, if he were playing today, he would light up the stat sheet with league-best scoring and most definitely be a guy who could put the ball on the floor and attack the basket.Just ask him.MORE: Shaq says his Lakers teams could easily beat WarriorsSN: How many points would you have averaged if you were playing now?SHAQ: “40. Without the free throws.”SN: How would you fit into the game if you were just coming in now?SHAQ: “I’d have been a 5. I would have been the ‘Greek Freak’ (Giannis Antetokounmpo). I would be a guy that can dribble, can handle, can go to the hole with force, do that. Kick it to guards. I tried to do that every now and then, but my coaches wasn’t having it. Every now and then, I did it. I know you guys saw me do it. I would be him.”However, I wouldn’t change my game because everybody else was shooting jumpers. I would still do what I do, and I would punish the bigs. When bigs shoot jumpers, that just tells me they don’t like the physical contact. I would definitely take advantage of that.”SN: What about with today’s rules?SHAQ: “I’m the reason they changed the rules. I am the reason they wanted to get people out of the paint because there was no one who could stop me, so they changed the rules.”SN: Triple-doubles were a rare thing in your era. Now, they happen every night, it seems. Has that stat been cheapened a little?SHAQ: “No. The game is just a lot more loose now. There is a lot more flow, a lot more 3s and a lot more layups. When we played, there were only a couple of teams that ran. Everybody else had to come down and call plays. It’s hard to get triple-doubles that way.”If you’ve got a guy fast as (Russell) Westbrook and you get out, he kicks it to you, all you’ve got to do is make a shot. If you’re a shooter, you hit two shots, the guy next to you hits two shots and before you know it, you’ve got eight, nine assists.”Sam Perkins: ‘Sometimes it makes you turn the TV off.’In the 1990s, Perkins was one of a small group of forwards and centers who revolutionized the way big guys were used by coaches. Yes, centers were important weapons in the paint, but unless you had a center of the caliber of David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon, Alonzo Mourning or Patrick Ewing, coaches had to find different ways to use their big guys.Perkins was among the first-ever test subjects in the development of the stretch-4, launching 270 3-pointers in 1993-94. He got really good at it. After making 27.0 percent of the 423 3-pointers he took in his first nine NBA seasons, he made 38.2 percent of his 1,925 3-pointers in the final eight seasons of his career.And yet, Perkins says he does not think he’d be much of a big deal in today’s NBA. Moreover, even if he was a pioneer of today’s style of play, he’s not a huge fan.MORE: Five things you didn’t know about Wilt’s 100-point gameSN: You came into the league at a time when not many players and almost no big guys were taking 3-pointers. By the end of your career, it was your niche. You were one of the first stretch-4s. How would you fit into today’s game?SP: “When I played, it was a strategy. Coaches used me shooting 3s as strategy. Today, I don’t even know if I would be in the game because they play small. I wouldn’t be on the floor in the fourth quarter. I would probably be down low because you would have four other guys out on the perimeter shooting. There’s no room for five people on the arc. You’d have to work it out.”But I would be one of many shooting 3s. It would not be a commodity like it was back then.”SN: You’re selling yourself short. You were a 38, 39 percent shooter from the 3-point line at the end of your career. You’d be on the floor.SP: “But everybody shoots it now, so it wouldn’t stand out anymore. I would just be making them like anybody else. But I would be shooting them a lot more if I was playing today with the philosophy now. The game now has changed where it’s, if you can shoot it, do it, moreso than just taking the opportunity.” Too many 3-pointers. No defense allowed. No one calls traveling. Too many layups.  Sporting News caught up with five retired NBA players to talk about the state of the game today, ranging from Hall of Famers from the 1970s and ’80s (Dave Cowens and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) to shooting stars of the ’80s and ’90s (Sam Perkins and Dale Ellis), to the defining presence in the league in the early 2000s, Shaquille O’Neal.last_img

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