Older, retired athletes voicing their displeasure and opinions on their current-day counterparts is nothing new. Fans, analysts, coaches, and players constantly discuss the differences in their respective playing eras, trying to place one above another. This is not bad, though, and is typically the most effective means of evaluating today’s talent and how they stack up compared to those who came before them.
The NBA is no exception. Former stars and role players find solace in harping on the shortcomings of present ball players. One of the key topics of discussion commonly touched upon has been load management, aka the concept of players voluntarily sitting out certain games to preserve their health.
The Real Reason Behind NBA Player’s Load Management
Load Management and the Truth Behind It
This is a scheme that was only implemented in recent times, much to the ire of many. Most people feel that players today don’t care about participating in as many games as possible, so they are comfortable not playing. Fans who spend hundreds of dollars to attend single games take it as a symbol of disrespect that their favorite player wouldn’t even suit up for their most passionate supporters. Basically, load management is just written off as a tactic for players to take paid time off. This is where the mistake lies.
First off, it must be acknowledged that injuries are far more prevalent in today’s league. Players constantly miss time due to somewhat eccentric issues that rarely came up before. This is the real reason behind load management. Players aren’t missing time because they want to; they have no other choice. For example, studies show that there has been an increase in lower body injuries since the 90s. A statistic that leaves experts perplexed, as teams back then practiced and played way more than they do today.
There Is One Key Difference Between Players in the Two Eras
As anyone who follows basketball knows, players of the past are constantly referred to as “plumbers and electricians.” Meaning they were not as skilled as players now. Due to the immense advances in technology and athletic training since then, this is probably true. That doesn’t mean all evolution in this aspect was for the better. One area where players differ today is overall strength and body weight. This is where the most obvious difference lies. Players from the 90s were far more built, resulting in the game being played more physically. As anyone with exercise expertise knows, more muscle equals lesser injuries. A stronger build allows the human body to withstand more impact while providing some resistance against numerous physical issues.
Now this hasn’t been confirmed by any doctors, but it’s simply an intriguing thought that makes sense. Players of today’s league are by no means “weak” and are still considerably stronger than the average individual. Just not as much as hoopers 20–30 years ago.
Point guards today weigh an average of about 190 pounds, which is relatively lightweight for an athlete that’s usually six-foot-plus. Centers are seven feet and 25o lbs, which is once again underweight for someone so tall, and whose livelihood is based on physical character. A far cry from as recent as the early 2000s, when centers such as Shaquille O’Neal were almost 400 lbs. This change in physique was likely implemented by coaches looking to maximize speed and athletic ability, to complement an ever-changing style of play. However, this is potentially where “complement” turned to compromise.
When doing large amounts of cardio, your body must be strong enough to withstand the constant strain. Otherwise, it’s going to break down. This is another possible factor in injuries today. Athletes are overworked with cardio without maintaining the proper muscle weight to help the body recover. Add in the countless AAU games, extra practices, and other events players participate in throughout their athletic journey. This makes it easy to see why their bodies aren’t withstanding as much as before.
Basketball is also a contact sport, despite what some may believe. Players are constantly jumping into players significantly bigger than them, which is an easy way to sustain damage—just some extra insight as to why lower body issues have gone up so much as of late. The players don’t have the body weight needed to protect them. This is another reason why the game is no longer as physical as it used to be. Many players aren’t built the way they were before.
The Last Word
As stated above, this is not an opinion from a registered medical professional. It just makes sense and is worth consideration. Players of the 90s played a much tougher game yet held up significantly better in terms of longevity. Players today are breaking down much more easily. Could this be why injuries and subsequent load management are all too common nowadays? It could, but we won’t know for sure until this disparity is evaluated on a greater level. Until then, though, it’s some interesting food for thought.