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Thursday, March 14, 2019

Pitino's Shot at Freedom of Movement

Basketball has experienced many transformations in it's glorious 127 years of existence. These changes have most typically represented progress, which infers improvement and development towards a better even more beloved game.

Yet, this progress has often been resisted by those that prefer or even benefit from the status quo. This is not surprising because in a much broader cultural or societal context progress is often opposed by those that like things the way they are and fight to keep them that way. Neuroscience would suggest that this impulse to either resist or embrace change may well have biological or genetic roots.

Rick Pitino, new head coach of Euroleague side Panathiaikos and acknowledged basketball savant of sorts was recently quoted as offering this observation about the quality of play in the Euroleague, "The game style  in Euroleague is the closest thing to what people call basketball." The Euroleague is noted for it's physical play and emphasis on well constructed set plays called by knowing coaches from the bench. Coach Pitino's comments are of course a not so subtle shot at the NBA and the Freedom of Movement spawned in part to focus on the manner in which games are now officiated out of concern the game was becoming basketbrawl. Which in turn has lead to an explosion of scoring, a torrent of threes, basket cuts, pace and space and position-less basketball. The current game in the NBA and by extension the NCAA is more wide open and less physical than almost ever before. 

It should also be noted that some have even suggested the Euroleague has surpassed the NBA in competitive quality. Jerry Colangelo (a basketball savant of another sort) who headed up USA Basketball remarked after Team USA comprised entirely of NBA players blitzed through the competition en route to the gold medal  in Brazil in  2016, "I'm all for raising the bar for global basketball. I'm a lifer in the game. I love the game, but we need to see other countries get their acts together and become more competitive." 

It is a certainty that many were mortified when Naismith's peach baskets of 1891 were replaced with backboards, metal rings and nets in 1906 - it is easy to imagine knowledgeable basketball people unhappily musing, "Our great game is changing - why are we messing with it!?" Or when Wyoming legend, Kenny Sailors created the jump shot in 1947 or when the NCAA re allowed dunking in 1976 after a nine year ban or when the three pointer came to the  NBA in 1979 - you get the picture.

Progress is always imperfect and not all change equates to progress or something inherently better. But to put a finer and final point on it; The Freedom of Movement, "Movement" has created a basketball landscape that has allowed for players like the extraordinary Steph Curry to flourish and thrive - how is that not progress?

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