But a plant on the edge of a desert is said to struggle for life against the drought, though more properly it should be said to be dependent upon the moisture.
― Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
In April, 1954, Danny Biasone, an Italian immigrant who ran a bowling alley and a restaurant in Syracuse, came up with an idea that revolutionized the game of basketball and quite possibly saved the NBA. With attendance to games anemic, and public interest in the league scant, Biasone, who owned the Syracuse Nationals (later to become the Philadelphia 76ers), proposed the 24-second shot clock. His hope was to speed up the pace of the game, add excitement with increased scoring, and basically change a sport that had become synonymous with slow, boring, foul-plagued games.
Biasone’s concept worked. Once the clock was instituted, the NBA drew more fans, star players became household names, and never again did one of its teams go bankrupt, something commonplace in the league’s early years. But Biasone downplayed his contribution, explaining his inspiration rather simply: “There’s one thing basketball needs. It needs a time. I don’t care what the time is. Put in a time!”
Evolution also needs a time, but it was put in with the the start of creation, no matter how you believe creation started, the conveyor belt that is life moving forward second to second, minute to minute, hour to hour, day to day, month to month, year to year….There is never a stoppage of play when it comes to the world we reside, no time-outs called by the earth to catch its breath (and maybe cough up a lung) and regroup. It just keeps spinning on its axis and revolving around our sun, at once marking, making, and mapping time. And with each click of the dial, so to speak, comes change. And with change, comes evolution.
Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution, as first postulated in his book “The Origin of Species” in 1854, declared that species survived through a process called “natural selection,” where those that successfully adapted, or evolved, to meet the changing requirements of their natural habitat thrived, while those that failed to evolve and reproduce died off.
While Darwin’s theory was used to explain biological change, I’m going to co-opt it to explain changes in today’s NBA; specifically, how teams are being built. With free agency in full swing, and star players on the move, there has never been more fluidity in roster creation. Teams just don’t stand pat anymore. From one season to the next, unless a squad is championship caliber, there is usually multiple to wide-scale revamping of lineups. It is a win now mentality, or a win soon at best, and the development of young players is often scrapped when a team has the chance to wipe the slate clean and replace them with established stars.
And the type of teams being constructed differs today as well. Gone now is the typical formation of a five that includes: a towering center that plays close to the basket, seldom shooting from outside the paint, and focused more on rebounding and defending the rim; a power forward who mirrors the center, but is able to step out at least a few feet from the basket and hit a short shot if needed; a small forward who can rebound and guard taller players, but is lithe and quick enough to drive and penetrate and shoot from mid-range; a shooting guard who can, well, shoot; and a point guard with the job of passing first, dribbling with aplomb, and setting up his teammates to score.
This formation has been all but scuttled. With the rise of the Golden State Warriors dynasty, the thing most coveted is a group of “position-less players”, with all being able to dribble and pass and shoot, creating hybrids like a a small power forward (Jimmy Butler), or a towering point guard (Ben Simmons). Basketball purists will argue the new style is ruining the game, but the upside of the argument is that the NBA has never been more popular or profitable.
But I’ve no doubt, in some distant future, the game will change again. Perhaps the lumbering center of yore, the Artist Gilmore type (look him up young people) will be back in vogue, as well as the pass-happy no-shoot point guard. Maybe even there will be a clamoring from fans that the game needs to be “slowed down,” the pace lessened, the shot clock expanded, and a new Danny Biasone will emerge with a solution.
But it’s useless to think we know what the future will bring. The only thing we can be certain is that it will come, and that it will be different. That really is the glory of evolutionary doctrine: there is no perfection to be reached that will stop the process. It’s a freeing thought, don’t you think, especially, say, if your favorite team was terrible last season, or even the best.
Because you never know what change will come. And that’s what makes it fun.