When did the NBA and the NCAA transition into Thug/Muscle ball?

  • I was at the gym getting a good workout in and turned on Game 7 of the NBA finals 1984. Magic/ Bird, Kareem, Parrish, Mchale, et al. I was able to pay close attention to about a quarter of the game and noticed a few things.

    1. ALL the players were tall and skinny. All of them. Not one seemed to weigh more than 100KG/220lbs.

    2. I saw a lot of the hi-lo game being played and not as much of the pick and roll/ pick and pop. Sure it was there but not to the extent that it is today.

    Question 1, When did basketball gain so much muscle?? Was it during the Karl Malone years or the Shaq years? Magic was a stick figure compared to Lebron. So was Kareem and Bird.
    What gives?

    Question 2. When did the NBA game transition to more pick and roll type stuff? The game I speak of above was tied 30-30 after the first quarter so it doesnt seem like the Pick and Roll stuff worked to increase the offensive production.

  • @Lulufulu

    I have a partial answer to the first one…look at the uniforms. Back in 1984. players wore the tight tops and short shorts and they looked tall and skinny. Now, with loose tops and baggy shorts they look short and stocky.

    A few days ago I was looking at some picture of a young Michael Jordan and he looked really tall and skinny and when I looked at later photos, he looked shorter and bulkier. Going back and forth I finally figured out that the only difference was the uniform. While he gained some weight in his career, his height stayed pretty much the same. Take a look at two sets of photos of players that wore both the short and the baggy shorts and you will see what I mean.

    Wilt and Dwight Howard are the same weight and Wilt is only 2-3 inches taller but when you look at their pictures in uniforms, you would thing Howard is 100 pounds heavier and 8 inches shorter than Wilt, again, with the short shorts, Wilt looks extremely thin, which he was not…he was powerfully built and with baggy pants and a loose top he would look 100 pound heavier. Here is a photo of Wilt, Shaq and Ewing (appears to be mid 90s) and they all appear to have similar builds, with Ewing being 20 pound lighter than Wilt; however, when you look at photos of Wilt in his short shorts he looks like a stick. Now, I am not sure if this is a real photo or a Photoshopped one but someone drew a line to indicate the similar heights between Shaq and Wilt, so even if it is not real, it seem to be in proportion…just sayin’


  • The transition began during the late 80’s when defenders began getting more and more athletic. The Lakers and Celtics of the early and middle 1980’s were just as physical as the late 80’s and early 90’s Pistons. The difference was that the Pistons were very athletic - Mahorn, Laimbeer and Salley were all very mobile for big men. Rodman was one of the first players that could guard any player 2-5. The secret to that Pistons defense was their athleticism.

    When Jordan was confronted with that athleticism plus the physicality of that time, he was worn down. In the “Bad Boys” documentary, Jordan talks about how he was not ready, either physically or mentally, to compete against Detroit. Pippen talks about much the same thing. And these are two of the most athletic wing players of any era.

    So what did Jordan and Pippen do? They hit the weight room to get stronger. Neither guy got all that much bigger - maybe 10 or 15 pounds total - but the difference when giving that added strength to superior athletes was immense.

    In an attempt to keep up, more young players started hitting the weights in earnest. Basketball wasn’t really a weight lifting sport to that point, but with the athleticism (i.e. explosiveness) increasing, the power game could not be left behind. In the early days, Dr. J was amazing because he did things that literally only a few other players could do. Now, you could probably fill an entire roster with that type of athlete. That means the raw athleticism isn’t enough, it must be refined.

    You still see lots of tall, skinny guys (Kevin Durant, Kevin Garnett immediately come to mind), but you also see more guys that are powerfully built at every position - a guy like Russell Westbrook would have been something like what David Thompson was when he entered the League if he had come along in the 70’s or 80’s. How do you compete with that if you aren’t an athletic freak? You have to get stronger so you can hold your own against Westbrook, who is actually a pretty lean guy for as powerful as he is.

    As for the pick and roll, it came to prominence as more and more guys that could handle the ball began to emerge. Stockton and Malone ran that set for 15 years, but as more PGs with handle and scoring ability began to come into the ranks, it made sense to keep the ball in their hands. Watch any high school game now with a top notch perimeter recruit and you will see that guy handling the ball 80% of the time. Pick and roll makes sure your best perimeter player gets to make a decision on every play. If you have a good perimeter guy and a good inside player (a la Stockton and Malone) even better, because your best two guys will have the ball in their hands on virtually every play.

    This was necessitated by the more athletic defenders as well. Average and below average offensive players simply can’t compete against the better defenders, meaning they need help getting their shots. Most of the time, that means using your best player (or best two players) to draw the defense away from your lesser players to give them shots they can make. Look at how Golden State used Curry and his shooting to get open shots for everyone else on their roster. By keeping the ball in his hands they were able to exploit the holes in the defense, not only against Cleveland, but throughout the playoffs. Those other guys don’t get those shots (and don’t have that production) if Curry isn’t drawing the defense with the pick and roll.

  • @justanotherfan Thats excellent! Thanks for the answer.

  • @Lulufulu

    I think most American sports have gone through some beefing up the past 20 years or so. Training techniques have improved considerably, and now it has become tough for guys who don’t “muscle up.”

    American football is totally different. Now you have huge linemen that can “haul ass!” It has really made the game crazy and dangerous. If you can ever go to a NFL game and get down on the field or sit close to it, you will hear the impact collisions and it sounds like a bad car crash. Very violent. The physics of pushing that much weight and that speed… I’m not sure what they are supposed to do to prevent injuries (and death!). Gosh…even a high school game these days can get pretty rowdy on the field. I know those young bones tend to flex better, but WOW!

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