x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

The last of the big friendly giants

Once, teams regarded the big centre as the source of championships. Now they are a dying breed. When O'Neal and Yao Ming retired last year, the NBA was left with one elite big man: Orlando's Dwight Howard.

Orlando's Dwight Howard shoots over LA Clippers' DeAndre Jordan.
Orlando's Dwight Howard shoots over LA Clippers' DeAndre Jordan.

Oh, for a big man. A really big man. A shot-swatting beast who makes the paint a no-go zone but also scores and rebounds.

Once, the NBA was well-stocked with intimidating big men who understood their roles and took pride in them.

Wilt Chamberlain, Willis Reed and Bill Russell. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone and Patrick Ewing. Patrick Ewing, David Robinson, Hakeem Olajuwon and Shaquille O'Neal. All gone. All seen now only on video.

When O'Neal and Yao Ming retired last year, the NBA was left with one elite big man: Orlando's Dwight Howard. And one still very much in training: Andrew Bynum of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Once, teams regarded the big centre as the source of championships. Now they are a dying breed.

Tall players today prefer to face the basket, shoot long jumpers and want to dunk in transition.

Thus, Kevin Garnett and Tim Duncans are "forwards". Each is careful to list their height at 6ft 11ins, as if being known as a 7-footer would force them to play like one. The NBA has centres who score but don't rebound (Toronto's Andrea Bargnani), who rebound but don't score (New York's Tyson Chandler), and a few who do a bit - but not a lot - of both (Milwaukee's Andrew Bogut, Memphis's Marc Gasol).

The demise of the big man was accelerated by the invasion of European centres who like to pop from outside. Good athletes but not "big men" - as those fearsome monsters once were known.