Kevin Durant believes NBA players appeared tougher in past decades because ‘they got away with a lot of flagrant fouls’

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We’ve always heard former basketball players boast about how the sport used to be more aggresive and that if current stars could travel back in time to play in the 1980s or 90s, they wouldn’t survive. Well, it makes sense considering that back then officiating would permit harsher plays, and now refs are much more protective of athletes. 

However, Phoenix star Kevin Durant isn’t buying this at all, as he explained in the latest episode of his podcast “The ETCs”, which is published every Wednesday.

According to the former league MVP, he’s been taking a look at old game films and doesn’t believe that the NBA was more physical in past decades, even though he admits players were used to constant uncalled flagrant fouls.

“I go back and watch a lot of that ’90s film, ’80s stuff, and they play physical but I just think they got away with a lot of flagrant fouls,” Durant started. “And I think that’s why they call their era more physical than ours. Because guys, we play physical here, too.

“There’s more space, but guys play physical, we got strong, athletic guys here, too. But I watched some of those games, the paint was clear, nobody was getting touched, it wasn’t a lot of help defense. But you did get a lot of flagrant fouls [that] didn’t result into fines or getting kicked out the game, so it just seemed like it was a little tougher.”

For Durant, just because a style of play in which you’re more likely to get an injury without getting punished by the officials doesn’t necessarily mean it’s tougher.

The truth is the sport has evolved in many areas besides avoiding aggresive collisions around the basket. Now that players are now free of the constraints of illegal defense rules, NBA coaches can create more refined and strategic schemes with their star scorers, avoiding offenses to simply walk up with the ball and call an isolation play or a post-up.

How have the changes in officiating modified the way NBA players act on court?

This new rule book has forced athletes to become more skilled and develop a higher sense of attacking instincts as the pace-and-space revolution has changed the way basketball is displayed in the NBA.

Take a look at this interesting compilation of harsh plays from the NBA’s “tougher” decades:

With a more possession-based sport, which requires players to cover more ground, constantly make decisions and endure change in strategy probably means that the modern-day basketball league has never been as tough as today’s sport. This is a theory that NBA’s executive VP and head of basketball operations Joe Dumars actually agrees with.

“You have to acknowledge that there’s more pace in the game today than before,” Dumars recently told ESPN’s Baxter Holmes. “The floor is more spread, probably a lot more cutting. All of those things are factual. I don’t think there’s any argument to that. What it does to the body, I presume, it probably stresses the body as much as anything. I don’t see how someone could argue against that.”