Our parents always told us about when they were growing up and how different things were. I find myself telling my kids the same stories today. Times do change and all things evolve.
I have always had a respect for past sports greats who did amazing things to become the legends they are and always believed the best of the best back then would have been greats if they played today and the best of the best today would not dominate if they played in the 40s, 50s and 60s because the science of the game at the time would have dictated otherwise.
Babe Ruth would not hit 120 homers in a season because Ruth never faced a middle reliever throwing 101 mile-an-hour fastball with movement he could never imagine. But if I dropped today's Aaron Judge into the 1940s but he could bring his training and nutrition and have the same access to sports science he does today, he would hit 120 home runs.
But here's something different about today's player, he doesn't have to play as much because we have things like load management and a staff of 20 telling us why it's better for the player to not push their body and missing games is in the good of the player and the team.
It was a simple text by someone who knows a thing or two about the game. Former Magic coach Stan Van Gundy likes to tweet at times. Yes, he does share his political views but at least Stan takes the time to have an opinion whether you like it or not, but when it comes to basketball, few can argue that his experience makes him a better expert to share his views about a game he has been around for better than four decades.
On Tuesday Van Gundy posted the following tweet:
"90’s NBA teams had just a trainer and a strength coach, they practiced more often and harder and played more back to backs. Teams now have huge medical & “performance” staffs and value rest over practice. Yet injuries and games missed are way up. Something’s not working!"
The first person to respond to the text was Kevin Durant, who tweeted: "Stan spttin..." That would be Kevin Durant, the injured player, who responded.
Stan was not criticizing Durant or any player who suffers or suffered from injuries caused by someone else or falling on their own. He was asking why now, more than ever we have more groin, hamstring and soft tissue injuries and if we have all these large medical and science experts working for these teams why are so many guys missing so many games.
It's a fair question to ask and many chimed in to Stan's initial tweet. Former NBA players and respected media people jumped on the common theme of how "the game has changed" and it has but if we are studying every player, game and play- why are so many players missing more games?
Stan was on Dan Lebatard's podcast, as he often appears, and discussed with Dan and Amin Elhassan. Elhassan worked in the front office for years in the NBA and offered a reason is that today's NBA players specialized in basketball at such a young age and didn't play other sports so their body is more worn and the muscles used to play basketball are put to the test more. Van Gundy argued that today's player may have played a few hours a day during their AAU days but players back in the 80s and 90s grew up playing on playgrounds for up to six hours a day.
In the 2021-22 NBA season, five players played in all 82 games. That number was 11 in 2020-21. In the 2002-03 season, 46 players played in all 82 games and in 1992-93 season 43 saw action in every game that year.
Elhassen did bring up a good point about players missing games. He said today it's about being as healthy as you can for the playoffs and the need to play 82 games is not a priority. That was something former player Greg Anthony also noted on twitter. They are both right. While fans may want to see their stars play every night, the team just wants their investment healthy when the run for a title starts. Anthony stated players look at an 82-game schedule more like a 68 game journey. Between the expected bumps and bruises and load management, all parties are looking at playing that amount during the course of a season. And why not?
Players have guaranteed contracts in the NBA and if a player is set to make $30M in a season, he will make it whether he plays in 82, 68 or 32 games. There is no motivation to play every night/ Even though the NBA reduced the number of back-to-back games and cut down on the three games in four nights, players are still missing more games than ever.
But Stan's question is a good one. He is right about how short his bench of non-players was in the 90s with a head coach, two assistant questions and a trainer but today there are three rows of team staff in a bench area. Today's NBA teams have trainers, strength and conditioning coaches, nutritionists, sports psychologists, load management experts and many more. What are we doing with all this data? Are we not supposed to be making these players healthier? Or are we just trying to maximize the player's performance throughout the season and it's no longer a priority to have the player play in every game.
I'd like to know the reason why we have more soft tissue injuries and I'd like to know if players even care about playing every game since they don't need to.
I don't view Stan's question as "the old guy complaining about today's game." I am sure sports medicine can explain why players miss more time today and maybe it comes to the player today not caring about playing in every game.
Michael Jordan played 13 seasons with the Chicago Bulls. Excluding the 1985-86 season, where Jordan broke his foot and played in only 18 games, he missed seven games during his time in Chicago....seven. Don't think he ever missed a game with soft tissue tear...
Final note: The average pair of sneakers last about 500 miles.