| March 22, 2018

Column: Ode to the Big Man

May 5, 2016

Scoring from beyond the arc is glamorous.

It’s a shot that requires incredible accuracy. The prolonged moment of anticipation as the ball floats toward the basket creates a collective breath among spectators.

There is also the appeal of earning three whole points for only one shot — something made possible only after 1979.

Three-pointers are glamorous, but three-pointers don’t win championships.

Rebounding wins championships.

Defense wins championships.

Free throws win championships.

And the little things that don’t show up on the stats sheet — those things win championships.

The thrill-factor that comes with scoring — and, largely, the guard position — can be blamed for the near extinction of a staple of basketball from an older time: the center.

It’s not simply the specific position that’s disappearing either. The overall concept of post skills has been drastically devalued due to the overshadowing of behind-the-arc shoot-outs and the glorification of the point guard.

Think about traditional centers still relevant in today’s NBA. Tim Duncan is still a solid asset for the Spurs, but the old man is on his way out. Dwight Howard’s contributions are undeniable, but he’s no longer the icon he was with the Orlando Magic.

But the value placed on these players isn’t the same as in the days of Wilt Chamberlain, or even later when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar represented a league of unstoppable big men.

Now, younger NBA players who don the “C” beside their names on rosters, like DeMarcus Cousins and Anthony Davis, grew up in a basketball climate where guard skills dominated.

Watch any of Cousins’ highlight reels — he often receives the ball far from the key, and utilizes ball-handling skills from a lifetime of training in guard-dominated environments to find his way to the basket.

The center is no longer the center from my father’s childhood, and I think it comes down to one overriding factor: a need for consumer validation.

The people tuning in and buying tickets don’t get to outright witness the effects of having a talented center on the floor. Something a big man provides is the in-and-out game — the ability for guards to take open shots due to the need for defensive pressure on the blocks — and the impact that has on a team’s overall offensive capabilities is huge.

But it isn’t on the stat sheet, and it’s not on Sports Center. Aside from the occasional earth-shattering dunk or brutal block, the contributions of a post player are often intangible. Even an impressive game of rebounding is overshadowed by an impressive game of scoring.

The media wants Stephen Curry, not Marc Gasol. As a result, the game has changed in nature, starting with the young players who consume that media. It’s a cycle that’s made the five-spot on the floor almost obsolete.

I’ll appreciate a good face-up on the block or hook shot until my dying day, but the same doesn’t go for much of today’s basketball-consuming culture.

Just because the contributions of the traditional post player aren’t always flashy or even visible doesn’t mean they aren’t there. I’d like to see a renewed appreciation for the art of the center position on all levels.

Lyndsie Kiebert can be reached at arg-sports@uidaho.edu or on Twitter @lyndsie_kiebert

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