Rasheed Wallace Calls Into Question Old College vs. NBA Debate Over Passion and Heart

Posted by Chris Johnson on October 11th, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

For most college basketball fans, the professional brand of the game they love has never resonated in the same endearing way. For reasons ethical and not, the general perception of NBA hoops is not a good one. It is, with few exceptions, terrible. Whether it’s the isolation-heavy offense, lack of defensive organization and discipline, or the fuzzy conception-based judgment that the game just isn’t played the right way in the professional ranks, there are few more infuriating three-letter sequences for college hoops fans than NBA. I’ve never quite understood the origins or the staying power of this criticism, nor do I subscribe to the same viewpoint. Every year, the NBA offers us a nearly six-month slate of the best basketball in the world, played by the best athletes in the world – most of which come from the programs college fans invest their time, money and passion enjoying. It’s not the same as the college game; the differences are as obvious as they are numerous. But if you enjoy basketball played at the highest level, robbing yourself of the sport’s greatest compilation of talent, spectacle and athletic brilliance seems silly. Whatever your opinions on the NBA the organization, it’s awfully difficult to come up with a sound argument justifying your lack of attention to the league’s on-court product. These guys are really, really good. That alone should pique your hoops-watching impulses enough to flip-on at least a few games each year.

With Wallace speaking out against the NBA’s competitive integrity, college fans’ complaints gain a layer of credibility (Photo credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images).

Perhaps the most frequent gripe with NBA basketball brings us to the realm of intangibles, the vague qualities that enhance (or devalue) the tenor of the game’s flow of play. The NBA’s lack of passion or fire or intensity, or whatever descriptor suits your position, is raised with alarming consistency in just about any anti-NBA diatribe. The typical argument proceeds as follows: College players lose their competitive drive when they reach the NBA and receive their first paychecks. Financial incentives, so the narrative goes, rob college players of the passion and unbridled joy that made them so fascinating to watch at their respective programs. If you share this mindset (as this is a college basketball blog, there are no doubt at least a few readers who most definitely do), you are not alone. One NBA contemporary is on your side. Rasheed Wallace – former North Carolina Tar Heel, first-round pick, four-time All Star, all-time NBA bad boy first-teamer, and most recently, New York Knicks frontcourt relief option – opened up with Brian Lewis of the New York Post Wednesday to reveal the reasons behind his unlikely age-38 comeback.

“I turned from the BS that they show, with a whole lot of the stuff that’s going on out here,’’ he said. “I was more interested in college. To me it seemed in college ball, guys are more hungry. It’s for a different circumstance when you’re talking about playing for money and playing for heart. Not saying that guys in the NBA don’t play for heart, but once you get that money, you’re under a different mindset. But when you’re trying to get there and get on this level, you’re more hungry.’’

Coming from a long-tenured NBA star, one of the league’s most feared interior enforcers, a guy who (by all accounts) understands the ebbs and flows of the professional game, this comes off as slightly more than a vain attempt to justify an end-of-career comeback effort. There are other ways to deflect notions of financially-motivated participation. Wallace brings forth a legitimate grievance about the mindset players take on once they enter the League. His beef is as generalized and as amorphous as the oft-recited complaints of college hoops fans, only it’s rare that we hear similar laments from professional players, let alone current NBA practitioners. In speaking out against what he perceives as a lax mindset among NBA players, Wallace lends a certain legitimacy to the decades-old criticism. There is no greater authority on the NBA’s collective mental makeup than the players that constitute it. And Wallace, a seasoned veteran with experience in multiple NBA locales, can speak to the players’ devotion, the way they approach the game once it becomes a career, when college players lose the amateur label and enter the highest competitive stage the sport has to offer.

If there is a wholesale drop-off in basketball intensity once players reach the NBA, then the common complaint is legitimate. But do Wallace’s comments end the debate? Is his logic, borne of experience and keen observation, enough to legitimize the notion that college players lose their passion upon leaving campus and receiving their first paycheck? These are all relevant queries that will only serve to harden college fans’ skepticism and general dislike of the NBA and its effect on the ambitions of college players. Wallace may be right – he is an NBA player, with more firsthand NBA knowledge than I could ever hope to accumulate, lest I channel my long-lost MJ genetic code in my college years – but the anecdotal evidence behind his claim is shaky, at best. Who’s to say Kevin Durant or Dwyane Wade or any other college-conceived NBA star lost their passion at the next level, or that financial security factors into players’ training and performance levels and manifests itself on NBA courts across the country? It seems rather far-fetched, that’s all. 

Chris Johnson (290 Posts)

My name is Chris Johnson and I'm a national columnist here at RTC, the co-founder of Northwestern sports site Insidenu.com and a freelance contributor to SI.com.

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