So, here on Trade Street, a little debate came up between our 2 newest authors. Bryan Beck and Matt Thomas decided to have a Claw to Claw debate on which version of basketball they preferred. Please enjoy this debate, and by all means, comment all you like. That's how fun discussions get started!
Which is Better: The NBA or NCAA?
Matt Thomas: This is a no-brainer. The atmosphere at college games is so superior to the atmosphere at NBA games. You have the bands, cheerleaders, students, and the alumni who give thousands of dollars a year to their university packed into the seats every game. The crowd is on its feet before the game starts and cheers for their team from the tip to the final buzzer, unlike the crowds at NBA games. Sam Cassell once called the fans at the Dean Dome a “wine and cheese” crowd but they look like European soccer hooligans compared to fans at NBA games. Everyone just sits around and plays with their Blackberrys or iPhones until the 4th quarter. There's regional/state loyalty and it's much easier to be ravenous about a school that represents where you're from even when you've left the area. It leaves a heavy feeling of pride and ownership as a fan.
Bryan Beck: I get your point but here is where your argument breaks down. When you talk about the big time college programs (Duke, Carolina, Kentucky, UConn, Kansas, etc.), you have a point. However, for every Duke/Carolina game there are 87 other NCAA games between Northwestern Missouri A&M and Hillbilly State. The same happens in the NBA. When the Heat play the Lakers or Celtics, the crowds are animated before the game starts too. And the crowds at playoff games rival those of NCAA crowds as well. Although the NCAA may have a better atmosphere from a crowd involvement standpoint, it lacks one element that you can only find on the NBA level: star power. When you’re in the building and Lebron James or Kobe Bryant is putting on a show, there is an aura of pure amazement and excitement that can only exist when you’re watching the best basketball players on the planet. Wouldn’t you rather see the best players?
Matt Thomas: There are a lot of us who still enjoy amateur athletics. That’s the reason high school sports are still so popular in this country. It’s comforting to watch these young guys play for the pure joy of the game and for school pride, before they are ruined by millions of dollars. And college kids still have their egos in check and actually respect and listen to their coaches. A lot of these kids KNOW they will never play a minute of NBA ball. They're trying to cement their legacy into the minds and hearts of America. For all we know that guy that hit that amazing shot that all of America knows about, could be your dentist now. College basketball is about the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back. A lot of schools don't even have the names of the players on the jersey. You root for your school. Your state. Your home. Your people!
Bryan Beck: Nice cliché but far from the truth. The beauty of the NBA is the fact we don’t have to care about any of the artificial things “student” athletes should be doing and can just realize they are professionals getting paid as masters of their craft. Plus, most of the college stars you mention only hang around college for a year or two. All you are really doing is renting them for a short period and providing a development league for the NBA. Wouldn’t you want to follow these players to the pros and see how they mature as professionals? And by the way, calling NCAA basketball players “amateurs” is a farce. Did you see Harrison Barnes hold a live press conference on ESPN to announce where he was going to school? And you’re trying to tell me Calipari isn’t paying players to come to Kentucky and breaking every other rule in the NCAA handbook, just like he’s done everywhere else? There is a lot of money switching hands at the “amateur” level and not all of that money is being exchanged legally. Just take a look at how much revenue is generated from the NCAA tournament alone.
Matt Thomas: First of all, criticizing the press conferences of high school athletes to announce their college of choice as egotistical is a bit hypocritical, don’t you think? Did you watch “The Decision?” And I’m glad you mentioned the NCAA tournament because that breaches a topic where the NCAA has a huge advantage: the playoff system. The NCAA tournament is the measuring stick for all other playoff formats in every other sport. Nothing can match the excitement of 68 teams in a sudden death, winner take all, single elimination shot at declaring yourself the national champions and listening to “One Shining Moment” with Jim Nantz. Every game counts. The champion is tested on so many levels because one off night and you’re sent packing. That is pressure my friend. Not to mention all of the incredible storylines about small Cinderella teams knocking off the big boys and getting to learn names like Ali Farokhmanesh (University of Northern IOWA!!!! PANTHERS BABY!). There is a reason why the TV ratings for the NCAA tournament demolish those for the NBA playoffs. I don't see anyone taking days off of work in anticipation for the long drawn out process of MILKING the NBA playoffs.
Bryan Beck: The NCAA tournament may be exciting but the single elimination format more often than not means the best team doesn’t win the championship. To me, identifying the best team is the goal of any playoff format and the NBA setup of 7 game series ensures the best team is crowned the champion. Plus, the better teams get the edge of home court advantage instead of playing neutral site games, which do not reward teams for finishing with the best records.
Matt Thomas: Yeah, but it takes 2 months for the NBA playoffs to complete and sometimes the first round can take 2 weeks. In the first round last year, the Bobcats and Magic had 2 off days without having to travel. That isn’t exciting. In fact, it’s boring and drawn out. The best team doesn't need an advantage. The best team should already have it. In the NCAA format you win, and play 2 games in 3 days.
Bryan Beck: The NBA playoffs are sort of like watching a baseball game: you have to appreciate the nuances and strategy involved in the game. The 7 game series is like an evolution, with each team making adjustments and feeling each other out. It is basketball mixed with chess. And there is nothing better than two great teams slugging it out for a week and a half to determine which team is the best team on the planet. If you watched the NBA Finals last year, I don’t see how anyone could call that boring or drawn out. That was a 7 game series where the best 2 teams battled for a title and all of those games were unbelievably competitive and exciting. They could have played “Best of 21” and I would have watched them all. Don’t forget: These are the best players in the world. College athletics are nice but even the best NCAA teams only have a couple of players capable of playing in the NBA. Even the rules at the college level are setup in a way to help the little guy.
Matt Thomas: There aren’t a lot of differences in rules and I’m not sure how they help the little guy. The 3-point line is closer and the lane is narrow but those are minor. NCAA teams can play a zone defense but that isn’t a bad thing. Zones give the coaches another weapon to attack offenses and force teams to be patient and hit perimeter shots. It also eliminates the isolation play, which is far too common in the NBA level. You see better ball movement and less 1 on 1 play in the college game and I have a hard time seeing how that is a bad thing. Strategy? Come on. What's more insane than having NO CLUE how to plan for your next opponent in the tournament? Your team has to go out and play its best. No ruse. No false game plan or intricate plan to pull the sheet over a team’s eyes in hopes of winning a couple of games and going home.
Bryan Beck: Isolation related offenses are becoming less and less common in the NBA and I agree it’s a good thing. But basically every phase where there is a rule difference, the NBA rule is better and isn’t intended to help the inferior team. For example:
1) The 3-point line is nearly three feet closer in the college game and statistically an easier shot. This results in inferior teams building their offense around a bunch of guys chucking up 40 3’s a game and hoping they make enough shots to keep it close against a better team that is more balanced offensively.
2) The 35-second shot clock slows the game down and limits the number of possessions in a game. Once again, this gives the inferior team a greater likelihood of hanging around.
3) The 1 and 1 free throw penalty doesn’t make sense to me. Why reward the team that is behind and fouling intentionally? It is much simpler and fairer to just give 2 free throws when the team goes over the limit.
4) The zone defense is basically for teams that are not big enough and/or quick enough to defend the other team. Just another gimmick to help the little guy.
Matt Thomas: Well, we may have to agree to disagree. But can we agree there is merit in both college and professional basketball? It is the greatest sport in the world and both offer a unique variety of the game.
Bryan Beck: Agreed. The NBA relies heavily upon the player development provided by the NCAA. Neither would survive without the other.
Now it’s your turn? What do you think? Do you prefer college basketball or the NBA and why?