©01 The Media Desk
You mean the NBA is going to start playing.... 'gasp'... ZONE DEFENSE?
The Zone was banned because people wanted to see high scoring games when the league was put together back in the 1940's. All of the sudden having both teams in a game at or near the century mark on the scoreboard became reality. Where in the older ABA and related leagues, defense dominated the game. In the fledging NBA scores like 169 to 147 weren't commonplace, but they happened. Wilt Chamberlain put up 100 points at that game in March of 1962. And he averaged Fifty Points a game that year. Other players, mere mortals compared to 'The Stilt', could run up thirty points or more a night on a regular basis.
Wilt changed the way the game itself was played. But that is another long story.
Defense was almost a dirty word. People wanted to see ever bigger numbers. If a team scored 93 points and won, they hadn't really played their best. If they scored 93 and lost, they didn't try hard enough.
The NBA was about Mano a Mano D.
Still, most teams play some sort of Zone. They do. They don't call it that, and the refs seldom if ever blow the whistle and call 'illegal defense', so it's been more or less ignored.
But now, almost sixty years into its life, and fighting for its TV life against criticism that the game has become dull and the competition factor has gone out of it in favor of Mike-Like superstars, the 'Z' word is being bantered around.
And of course some of the teams, and a lot of the high flying stars are crying like the prima donna spoiled brats most people think they are. Why?
Man defense allows for a Star. Allen Iverson, Shaq, the Mailman, they can run and gun all they want against a man defense, as long as they stay a step ahead of their man. (Oh, by the way, when was the last time you saw one of those stars called for 'travelling' when they were running for the basket?)
If they try that run and jump against a good tight set zone, they're probably going to end up with a charging foul.
Will the Zone help the TV ratings of the league?
Yeah. For awhile. Just like people tuned in to see the XFL's first couple of games.
Will it put Paying Customers in the stands at NBA games?
Check this out. The Washington Wizards (the team formerly known as the Bullets) were one of the basement dwellers for the 2000-2001 season. Tickets in the nosebleed sections, behind the backboards, three sections from the court were thirty-two dollars each. From there they went up to about seventy dollars, if you could actually see the court from your seat. Across the league, the prices are about the same. Big market or small, huge field house or smaller arena. Playoff bound team or somebody that sweated it out just to break a dozen wins for the season.
So if you bought four tickets to sit up by the rafters, and pick up a couple of drinks and some popcorn, and maybe a souvenir for the kids, you are easily looking at almost two hundred dollars and that's without paying for a parking spot.
Now don't take that the wrong way, ticket prices for every professional sport are outrageous. For an NFL game and a Winston Cup Race, buying a set of decent tickets might mean missing this month's rent for a working stiff. Major League Baseball isn't THAT bad, if you don't mind sitting in a different ZIP Code than Home Plate. You don't have to take out a loan for an NHL ticket, but if you want to be close enough to see the puck you are still facing sticker shock.
And it's starting to work down to the Minor Leagues as well. If you work for a living you can't decide at the last minute 'Let's go to a game today' without double checking your bank balance.
Part of the reason the home teams have jacked up ticket prices, sold their stadium's name, their scoreboards, and their souls to corporate sponsors is to meet the demands of the very players now whining about having to play defense.
Will going to the Zone sell more T-shirts, posters, and hats?
No. If you don't have a team jersey now, you are not likely to run out and buy one with the name of some great Zone player.
Will the Zone make the game more exciting to watch?
Watching ten big tall men run up and down the court trading slam dunks for forty eight minutes isn't exactly one of life's great thrills.
Oh, yeah, did you know that by the clock, the NBA plays the shortest professional game going? Hockey and the NFL play sixty minutes. Hockey in three twenty minute periods, the NFL in four quarters. Baseball has no clock (but they do have a delay of game penalty, go figure), NASCAR runs by either distance or laps, either way it goes for more than 48 minutes. Soccer runs two forty-five minute periods. But the last two minutes of an NBA game can take almost half an hour given all the time outs, TV breaks, and stoppages of play while somebody fixes their hair.
The Zone Defense will most likely slow the game down somewhat, and add to the drama as you watch superstars trying to figure out how to dribble and pass instead of run and slam. It is a TEAM defense, and it takes a TEAM effort to get by it and score.
Three point gunners will become the stars against the Z. Guys that can pass quickly and accurately will see their bonuses increase.
You'll still see the fast break and flying slam-dunks, but not as many. Which will make the ones that do happen more exciting and spectacular.
One of the complaints about Sir Michael was that you couldn't defend against him. Well, man to man, you couldn't. Just like the Knicks that night in Hershey couldn't defend against Wilt when he got his C. But teams learned that to play against a player like Chamberlain you had to have somebody like him. They figured out that to play against Dr. J, you had to have a Larry Bird. And against Jordan, you needed Malone or Robinson.
To play against a well executed Zone. You need a Well Executed Offense.
And that is something that has been missing in the NBA almost since they outlawed the Zone Defense.