You have almost certainly witnessed at least one debate about how basketball used to be more challenging. The fact hand-checking was permitted frequently forms part of the argument. Full disclosure, I like the thrilling nature of the modern game, but I do think it’s a little too soft in a few aspects.
However, I don’t want to beat the old vs. new drum here. Instead, this text is actually gonna look at the much-talked-about hand-checking rule and how it changed the NBA game forever. A few fact-based comparisons of the new game and the old game will inevitably come about and whether the changes brought by the hand-checking elimination are for better or worse is entirely up to you. Now, let’s define hand-checking clearly.
What Is Hand-Checking?
Even if you have never heard of it before, you have almost certainly experienced it or done it throughout pickup games. In the easiest possible words, hand-checking is actually when the defending player utilizes one or both hands for initiating contact by putting it on the other offensive player for better control, i.e., checking them and obstructing their progress.
The arm does not need to be extended entirely; even a partly extended arm put on the offensive player can make it much harder to score/drive and much simpler for the defender to stay ahead. Glancing at the game today, it can be hard to understand that such a way of playing defense was ever permitted.
Once Upon A Time!
You’re almost certainly familiar with how the NBA was actually dominated by great centers, and you almost had to have a dominant center to contend for the championship. The game was almost glaringly slow, and perimeter play was nowhere almost as developed as it’s actually today.
It is accurate that hand-checking was a huge contributing part to it, but it was far from the only one. Executives and coaches just glanced at the game in a different way, and analytics that acts as the driving force behind a lot of adjustments and decisions in the modern NBA was all but unidentified back then.
With the game centered on big men and hand-checking permitted, the basketball game was much more physical, which led to a lot of situations that’d be an obvious foul today not being called back then. Now, it almost certainly did not trouble spot-up shooters that much since the game was actually never centered on driving. Conversely, it’s simple to see why it’d discourage players who desired to drive to the rim from doing that. Even if you can get past the main defender, and that is huge if there is a massive center waiting under the rim since stretch fives were absent.
You’ll get hit hard, and free throws would not be certain. If you desire an excellent example, simply watch any Bad Boy Pistons’ defensive compilation on YouTube since they pushed such rules to their absolute limits.
Seeds Of Change:
Even if powerful centers controlled the show in the eighties and early nineties, that does not denote that perimeter stars didn’t exist. Larry Bird, Reggie Miller, Julius Erving, Magic Johnson, and John Stockton are just some of the most prominent ones. Now, I know what you are wondering; one name is missing here.
That name is almost all alone responsible for the start of the hand-checking’s end. When Jordan’s Bulls began dominating the NBA, basketball aficionados were introduced to the brand new form of basketball.
A team centered around the revolutionary system and two perimeter stars in Pippen and Jordan. The Bulls actually dominated the league, and perimeter play was getting fame because everybody desired to be like Mike. He was the NBA’s face, and he was very marketable.
Jordan’s playing style was both attractive and novel to fans that simply could not identify with the big 7’ men. The NBA was more well-liked than ever, and youngsters everywhere desired to polish their perimeter skills. NBA leadership saw the potential.
When MJ left for the first time, the league tailored the rules so that hand-checking wasn’t permitted in an attempt to actually encourage more perimeter play without the premier perimeter star of the league.
They might have also been anxious (read: were totally anxious) that their rating would sharply go down without MJ. Unsurprisingly, the ratings did drop like a rock. However, there was very little execution of the new rules, and they were totally thrown out of the window once MJ (and the ratings) returned.
The End Of An Era:
Jordan’s 2nd 3-peat not just cemented his legacy, but a whole generation of up and coming players was raised perfecting their perimeter game, and it became obvious that a dominant center was not the only recipe for the championship any longer.
The hand-checking rule actually survived for some more years after MJ’s 2nd retirement back in 1998, but it was obvious that the perimeter game was the way of the future, and the NBA desired to unleash its full potential. When hand-checking was at last banned following the 2003-2004 season, the NBA game would be changed forever. The final representatives of the old centers’ guard were on their way out, and the league was ready for occupation by a new dominant perimeter players’ crop.
Guys like Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, and Dwayne Wade were the new faces of the league, and defenses had to discover a new method of stopping them. It’d turn out to be an extremely hard task, and players like these would really excite the fans on a nightly basis.
Even if it did take some more seasons for the game’s speed (calculated by pace: the average possessions’ number per game) to ascend, this new basketball brand was much more exciting and attractive to watch, and there was much more scoring happening.
Could Hand-Checking Ever Return?
The extensive implementation of analytics in basketball was the last evolutionary step towards the complete adoption of the perimeter game that became so common that the center position was beginning to become almost useless beyond rim protection.
Had that trend sustained, a case (although a weak one) could have been made for bringing hand-checking back in some shape. Luckily, the big NBA men also evolved to become far more absolute players than any of the forerunners.
Such developments have brought us to what’s debatably the most exciting and fastest era of NBA basketball in history. Hand-checking is now fairly seen as a remnant of the past, and even the most bitter nostalgic will almost certainly need to admit that the past is precisely where the hand-checking rule belongs.