Do you remember the night that both Dwayne Wade and Joe Thornton were injured? Well, it may not have been the exact same night, but it really doesn’t matter…what matters is how the two reacted to their injuries that points out the difference between the NBA and the NHL.
The NBA, its players and coaches would have us believe that the league is filled with guys who put it all out on the floor every night. Spending a few minutes watching one of these exhibitions makes me feel like nothing could be further from the truth. The games consist of 45 minutes of “if you take it easy, so will I” followed by a couple minutes of effort if the game is close enough. That kind of effort in the NHL will get you killed. Effort is not only optional on game night; it seems it is frowned upon at practice. We all learned that lesson from Alan Iverson with his “practice?...we talkin’ ‘bout practice” rant from a few seasons back. NHL players respect the game enough to work hard every time they take to the ice.
However, the real difference between the leagues is toughness. The NBA talks about it while the NHL proves it night in and night out. One night early in 2007, Dwayne Wade separates his shoulder in a game against the Houston Rockets, a painful injury to be sure, but the drama that ensued made it almost laughable. After spending the next several minutes prone on the floor, Wade was helped to the bench. Moments later it was determined that further examination would be required so a trip to the locker room became necessary. Somehow, it was essential that a wheelchair was needed to drag his near lifeless body to the safety of the locker room. Are you kidding me…a wheelchair? No report on whether Flight for Life was called in for transport to the hospital.
Cut to the Avalanche hosting the San Jose Sharks when an errant stick unfortunately finds the mouth of Joe Thornton. Unable to believe that no penalty was called, Thornton skates to the bench while yapping at the ref. Why was he so upset? Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that the stick happened to knock out a few teeth that were in his mouth moments earlier. Oh well, scrape the blood off the ice, give the teeth to the trainer, and let’s get on with the game. As for big Joe T, he may have missed one shift, but finished the game, albeit a few teeth short. No stopping the game, no wheelchair, and most of all no drama. As Thornton said, shrugging his shoulders, there's not much you can do when it happens except "go back to the bench and spit them all out."
I’ll stick with a real man’s game…give me the NHL and you can have all the overpaid hoopsters you want.