Licensed to Skill

There's nothing like good ol' fashioned sports drama. In our modern-day philosophy of being into everyone else's drama (whether real or manufactured), beef brings eyeballs. Remember the TV show "Yo Mama?"

Wilmer Valderrama's effort to bring an urban staring contest to the world of MTV is a prime example of sports beef culture. A person offends another party. The offended replies appropriately. Once established, onlookers follow the lobs of insults as if they were watching Roger Federer/Rafael Nadal at Wimbledon. All the while, the audience silently inquires "what you got?" in anticipation of the next retort.

Sports beef can be as trivial as "I'm better than you are" or "I'm defending my teammate." But it can also dive into some deeper philosophical questions. The current beef between Patrick Reed and several members of the PGA Tour family centers on the integrity of the game's rules. The same can be said for the Houston Astros vs. the rest of Major League Baseball.

Then, you have the NBA, where trash talking has become a way of life. As you may know, a few weeks back, Giannis Antetokounmpo made a dig while picking his squad for the All-Star Game. There were three choices remaining from the starters' round of picks: Kemba Walker, Trae Young, and James Harden. In Giannis' pause to decide on his next selection, Charles Barkley asked if he would take "the dribbler," referring to Harden. The reigning MVP smiled and said he wanted someone "that's going to pass it," then selected Walker. Shot fired.

As you may know by now, Harden has responded. In an interview with ESPN, the Rockets' star guard (and former NBA MVP) told Rachel Nichols, "I wish I could be seven feet, run, and just dunk. That takes no skill at all. I gotta actually learn how to play basketball and how to have skill. I'll take that any day." Now, that's a mic drop-worthy statement if I ever heard one. However, is that a true sentiment around the entire modern philosophy of the NBA?

One of the main tenets of the Association since its birth has been the standard of mixing various heights together in the creation of a team unit. With every other major sport, height isn't necessarily a correlation to an advantage over another player.

You don't need to throw a pass to win a football game (a dominant ground game could suffice). You don't need to bomb homers to win in baseball (a string of low line drives to the gap can produce enough runs in a pitchers' duel). Five-holers, stinger drives, and drop shots can all get the job done while keeping things close to ground level.

In hoops, height is necessary to score through a goal standing 10 feet above the floor. That means height, wingspan, and vertical jumping ability are a key advantage some players have over others. This is why the history of the league is littered with tall folks that could take over a contest around the rim (George Mikan, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, Shaquille O'Neal, etc.). The evolution of this position, though, may have developed sooner than some believe.

In my opinion, rebounding and shot blocking are skillful arts. Do taller people have an advantage? Sure. But knowing body positioning to box out another boarder or contest a shot without goaltending doesn't happen by just setting your feet and waving a hand in the air.

On the offensive side, Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon became famous for the dexterity and nimbleness they used around the basket. Tim Duncan may have been as savvy a player as anyone who put on a jersey. And there's no way you'll convince me that Jabbar's skyhook wasn't the most original shot created in the sport's history and the most skillful to execute.

In today's edition of the league, though, the dynamics of what a center can/will/should do continues to evolve.

Almost the entirety of NBA (and most levels of basketball, for that matter) have gone all in on developing offensive strategies where three-pointers are seen as the lifeblood (instead of a life line). It's had an effect, making several post players (Karl-Anthony Towns, Myles Turner, Brook Lopez, Antetokounmpo, etc.) develop more (or much more) range on their shots over the last few seasons. In a way, we can all thank Dirk Nowitzki, who helped change perception after entering the league in 1998 and becoming the first real "stretch big."

Along with the analytic drooling for triples, skills may refer to one's handles. In this post-And 1 Mixtape world, the ability to break people's ankles can result in the highest forms of flattery. In a value sense, how much "lesser than" is a post presence that's plodding and dependent? It's much more advantageous to have a player that can make a couple dribbles in the name of opportunity creation. There are names that are already to that level. Giannis can lead a fast break. Anthony Davis can lead a fast break. Kristaps Porzingis can lead a fast break. It might not be to the level of Luka Doncic, Russell Westbrook, or Kyrie Irving, but the job can still get done.

The game of basketball continues to evolve. The skill sets needed to survive through a career in it will likely shift, too. One philosophical I believe will stick around, though, is the welcoming of a supply of seven-foot athletes. And I'm pretty sure they'll develop whatever skills are necessary to thrive on the courts of the future.

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