A pet theory of mine has always been that Michael Jordan was responsible for the really boring basketball that took over the NBA after his retirement.
Here's how it goes: Jordan really made GMs value cutting-edge athleticism and athletic training.
It also made them believe, for the first time, that a skywalking 2-guard could anchor a title team. For a time there, muscled-up wing players, like Jordan, were all the fashion. Their stock was up.
But once they played the games, the truth was that the vast majority of Kendall Gills, Doug Christies and Bryon Russells couldn't use their muscles to score like Jordan did. That takes skills and thought processes humans don't normally have.
But guys like that sure can shove people around on defense. So they did that. Lots of that.
The NBA got a big, Jordan-infused influx of athleticism. But instead of tons of skywalking, we needed rule changes to avoid an end to skywalking.
On CelticsTown today, they have excerpted a book about Bill Russell. Author Aram Goudsouzian makes a similar case, saying that Russell's amazing defense led to great NBA offense (although not necessarily on his team):
Almost paradoxically, Russell had fed the sport’s offensive transformation. Because of his rebounding, the Celtics operated their fast break with vicious efficiency. Because of his defense, every team adapted. His leaping ability and timing had corroded basketball’s older, earthbound patterns. After Russell, one needed to play faster, stretch the court, shoot from new spots, jump higher. The game rose above the rim. It demanded agility and speed, and it valued all-around skill. In Russell’s wake came a new generation of dynamic stars including Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, and Wilt Chamberlain — all of the, by Russell’s last season, members of the Los Angeles Lakers.