Screens and the Future of the NBA

Paul Shirley — former NBA player and author of “Can I Keep My Jersey?” — commented on the future of the NBA for El Pais.   Paul’s comment, though, is in Spanish.  What follows is the same article in English.  One should note, if Paul is correct than the issue of competitive imbalance in the NBA is not likely to be resolved in the future.

I have long maintained that present-day NBA players are probably objectively better than their forebears because so many children were playing basketball in the 1980s and 90s. This crowded pool of talent could only serve to produce history’s most effective basketball players, in the way that an overcrowded prison might produce the most ruthless boxers. Only the strong survive, and all that.

It seems reasonable to assume, then, that basketball will only get better as more and more people play. There’s only one problem with that string of assumptions—what if more and more people don’t play?

Each week, I spend two half-days teaching writing and reading comprehension to teenagers who eventually want to be police officers. It is a strange job for many reasons, including that I never thought I’d be a teacher, my college degree is in engineering, and for a long time, I hated the police. Nonetheless, it is a mostly rewarding gig if only because I get to feel like I am having some impact on the future of law enforcement by making my kids think about the world outside Los Angeles by way of The Shadow of the Wind.

Last week, I gave books to each of my kids, and concurrently asked them to write about the first books they’d ever loved. One student raised his hand and asked, “What if we’ve never read a book?” He was 17, and he was not alone in his near-illiteracy. I soon learned that almost half my class had never finished a book. Not Harry Potter. Not the Goosebumps series. Definitely not anything by Hemingway. Later, I told this story to one of the school administrators, who said, “It’s all screens!”

I don’t think it’s much of a leap to say that “screens” – phones, tablets, and computers – have begun to dominate the worlds of young people. I’ve seen it written that some kids are spending as much as seven hours a day in front of their tiny portals to cyberspace. Whatever we think about this screen time—whether we think it good or bad or a sign of the impending societal Apocalypse—what seems inarguable is that time in front of these slivers of glass is cutting into time once spent doing other things. Like reading, writing, and playing basketball.

This means that the next Carlos Ruiz Zafon might be squandering his talents in text messages. It also means that tomorrow’s LeBron James might be too occupied with Tinder to learn how to throw a bounce pass; that the next Damien Lillard is too busy with his Facebook profile to work on dribbling a ball between his legs.

It’s all very depressing news, but for one important silver lining: unlike most things, which seem to only get bigger and better, we may be reading the best books ever written. And we may be watching the best basketball the world will ever offer, because tomorrow’s NBA players are being kidnapped by the supercomputers in their pockets.