I wish people would actually watch games from their "golden era" and realize how common 70+ FTA games were, how so many flagrant fouls were "soft" in the '90s due to the bad boys era, and realize how many touch fouls were called amongst other things. The most physical era in the NBA was actually the '70s. And rules eliminated REAL, physical hand-checking in '79:
Clarification added to prohibit hand-checking through “rigid enforcement” of rule allowing a defensive player to retain contact with his opponent so long as he does not impede his opponent’s progress.
In the '80s, I've seen hand-checking get called all the time. Commentators pointing out on replays how the guy was not allowed to hand-check etc. SI published an entire feature article in the 80s because NBA defense was perceived as a JOKE. Poor help defense, no zone, less and less physicality, and so on. That's how everybody thought of it at the time. Hand-checking was still allowed in the back court however to pressure the ball handler, but they eliminated that altogether in 1994.
The same "soft, not as physical" complaints people have about the league now, people had back in the 80s/90s. I saw old timers from the '70s on half time segments making fun of how you couldn't guard Jordan because of all the favorable rules for him (isolation, lack of physicality etc). I'll gladly upload video of couple of them talking about this because I think I saved it somewhere. And the same "hand-checking" complaints were going on in 1993, in fact here's an NY Times article:
Published: March 28, 1993
The increase of flagrant fouls and violence between players in today's National Basketball Association is a direct result of the elimination of the defensive hand check from games. Physical contact has always been a part of modern professional basketball. But when the N.B.A. abolished a defensive player's ability to use the hand check as a way of slowing down the offensive player he was guarding, players began finding new ways to keep their opponents from going to the hoop. As a result, the hip check has replaced the hand check, as frustrated players try to limit their opponents' scoring chances.
It is time for the N.B.A. to reinstate the use of the hand-check.
Hubie Brown on hand-checking (1993):
Technically the real handcheck was made illegal in 1980 (and I have tons of clips of commentators pointing this out, making a compilation actually...Tommy Heinsohn getting pissed whenever someone got away with a handcheck on Bird or something), but you got away with it then, just like you get away with it now.
You could check but you could never impede a player's progress like you could before 1980. So, since it was legal in the 70s, I'm sure lot of "handcheck = 90s together era" nostalgia goggles wearing clowns will agree that 70s = GOAT defense because it was more physical. Wait...that's exactly what players from the 70s used to say, how you couldn't defend MJ with the no touch rules: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f6sWXHLbZsU&#t=4m
. But it doesn't take much thinking to realize that 90s defense > 70s defense because the players overall are much quicker, cover the floor better, better team defense, the game is more half court oriented so less easy shots. Just like it doesn't take much to realize that late 90s/00s defense > early 90s and 80s for those same exact reasons.