From generation to generation

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This Paul Pierce profile has generated a lot of buzz this week. The grizzled veteran dishes on last year’s ill-fated detour to Brooklyn, his close relationship with Kevin Garnett, the great value of a hyperbaric chamber (sign me up!) and, of course, on “kids today.” About his current teammates in Washington, the young back court of Bradley Beal and John Wall, Pierce says they’re extremely talented, but that “today’s player” lacks the desire for greatness or the will to win that Pierce’s generation possessed. In particular, Pierce said:

“I think it’s more this generation. A lot of these players have been catered to since the sixth grade. The NBA is changing so much. It’s not like when I came up, with that old-school mentality that practice really mattered. You’ve got these 24, 25 year old guys who sit out of practice now to rest. It’s hard for me to understand, but I’m trying.”

As a reminder, Pierce entered the NBA in 1998. It would be hard to overstate the degree to which – by the time Pierce was drafted, and for the next several years after – the collective reputation of pro basketball players was in the toilet. Taking as bookends Latrell Sprewell’s choking of his coach, PJ Carlesimo in 1997 and the “Malice in the Palace” in 2004, many commentators insisted the NBA was in long-term decline, plagued by an increasingly ugly style of play, indifferent and overpaid players and the perceived triumph of “hip hop” NBA, with all the attendant racial and other negative connotations.

No player more embodied this period of NBA history than Allen Iverson, who entered the league two years before Pierce. For all of Iverson’s on-court exploits, his famous do-rags and so on, the “highlight” of Iverson’s career, the moment that will live indelibly for generations to come, was his rant-for-the ages about “practice.”

There’s an interesting little backstory about that classic Iverson moment. Gary Payton, the NBA great whose career overlapped with those of Iverson and Pierce recounted a conversation he had with Iverson while both were still playing. As Payton tells it, Iverson asked the great point guard how he stayed in such good shape. The answer Payton gave to The Answer – avoid practice. In fact, Payton said, the idea was his then-coach’s George Karl, who wanted to save his legs and his strength for the games over the course of the grind is the NBA season.

(Here’s Payton telling the story).

I will never cease to be bemused by guys insisting that their generation cares more about – fill-in-the-wholesome-value-blank – then the young’uns, when every previous generation has complained about precisely the same thing.

But of all the things for Pierce to single out about *his* generation as a contrast to today’s ballplayer, the supposed dedication to practice is an especially amusing one.

By the way, I really like and admire Pierce.

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