Bill Simmons: Basketball is at a Crossroads

Watching O.J. Mayo put Bill Simmons into a "my word the future of basketball is selfish and bleak" funk that even Kevin Love couldn't get him out of. These kinds of criticisms of basketball are not new, of course, but Simmons says it better, and manages to get in some interesting specifics about both LeBron James and the Boston Celtics. You should really read the whole thing, but here's an excerpt.

...the sport of basketball is headed for a crossroads of sorts, personified by the fact that Kobe Bryant's recent streak of 50-point games received far more national attention than the incredible Suns-Mavs game two weeks ago. Nobody wants to be the next Steve Nash; everyone wants to be the next LeBron James, the next Gilbert Arenas, the next Vince Carter. Those guys make the most money and get the most magazine covers and commercials. Just look at what happened to LeBron's all-around game when he reached the pros -- blessed with an innate passing gene that gave him a choice between becoming the next Magic or the next MJ, he said "Screw it, I'm going for my points" and went the MJ route. I will always be disappointed about that choice.

Again, it's not a black/white thing as much as a philosophical thing -- we glorify scoring and dunking and allowed an infrastructure in which AAU games and summer camps matter more than high school games. Winning and losing doesn't matter nearly as much as how you did and how you looked. We're seeing the effects in the NBA right now; it's been one of the worst regular seasons in recent memory, mainly because the vast majority of players don't seem like they give a crap. For instance, the Celtics had the youngest team in the league this season. During their 18-game losing streak, nobody ever got kicked out of a game, knocked someone into a basket support, threw a frustrated punch ... hell, even the coach didn't get kicked out of a game. There was a passive, pathetic, indifferent response to everything that was happening. Not a single person stepped up. As somebody who travels with the team told me, "If you were with these guys every night and saw how little these losses affected them, you'd never want to follow sports again ... the losses just bounce right off these guys."

Why? Because they've been playing 100-plus games every year since they were 14 years old. Because the final score never really mattered for most of those games. Because they were taught at an early age that it's all about how YOU looked, not how your team looked.

To be fair, some guys break out of that mind-set or never get corrupted in the first place. At the same time, it's definitely a mind-set. And it's depressing.