There’s been a lot of love for AFL on MoTD recently, because the AFL season is upon us again. I don’t mind AFL. A good quality game is fun to watch, and I genuinely enjoy kicking the footy with mates.
However, I lack the ‘obsession’ gene that most Melburnians are born with. I lack that pathological fixation on all things AFL. I don’t live the months of March-through-October one weekend at a time. And when my team lose, I don’t take it personally (which is a good thing, since I support Richmond!)
Growing up, my preference for basketball over footy was met with pity, confusion or occasionally contempt. How could I pick a Yankee non-contact game for sissy beanpoles over the roughest, toughest, fastest and most exciting game on earth?
Well it’s time to burst some bubbles folks, so strap yourselves in… this could be a long one.
You see folks…
They’re just not that impressive.
“WHAT!?” the football fan cries. “NOT THAT IMPRESSIVE?! How can they not be impressive!? They’re elite athletes playing an exciting sport with tremendous skill!”
Well Mr or Mrs football fan… two out of three ain’t bad, I suppose.
I will grant you that the game is tremendously skillful when played well. Kicking a 50m goal from the boundary on the run is pretty amazing.
And I will grant you that the game can be very exciting when played well. A good quality flowing game creates multiple chances and close games can turn on a moment.
Credit where credit’s due. But you cannot ask me to be impressed with the athleticism and physical prowess of AFL players when I’ve grown up watching truly elite athletes in the NBA.
“OUTRAGEOUS!” cries the AFL fan. “NBA players wouldn’t last one second in the AFL! Footy players would run rings around basketballers physically!”
Well folks, one second is a long time, depending on the situation.
Of course NBA players lack the footy skills needed to compete, just as the footy players wouldn’t last a second on the basketball court if I was discussing skills. But as for running rings around the basketballers physically? On so many levels that is just plain incorrect.
I know I must sound like a broken record – Shane, we get it. You prefer basketball. Move on, buddy.
Please understand: I write this article because, living in Melbourne, I’m exposed to a truly insane level of hero worship involving AFL players. Every week I listen to Bruce McAvaney fawn over Buddy Franklin’s “freakish” combination of size and speed. I listen to Dennis Commeti lose the plot over Jonathan Brown’s physical strength. Friends of mine marvel at Aaron Davey’s speed.
To all those things, I simply say… “Meh.”
Why should I be impressed by these things when I can turn on ESPN and watch NBA players run faster, jump higher, exhibit greater strength, accelerate more quickly and change direction more abruptly than AFL players? And do all of that despite being taller, heavier and generally more impressive physical specimens?
As I’ve argued before, the only thing truly elite about AFL players is their freakish endurance. Midfielders in particular have world-leading stamina. But in terms of strength, speed and other aspects of athleticism? Again… meh.
The average NBA player is 13cm taller and 12kg heavier than the average AFL player. Despite being heavier, their vertical leap averages are much higher than the AFL boys can manage (and that is a major, major understatement). There was Australia-wide fawning when 6’5″ NicNat showed up at a Perth Wildcats NBL game recently and did a very nice dunk over a 5’8″ tall courtside announcer.
Funny how Australians largely ignore the fact that in the NBA you have people like 5’9″ Nate Robinson jumping over 7″ tall Dwight Howard.
Below-average sized players in the NBA, someone like Dwyane Wade are actually bigger than players like Michael Hurley from Essendon Football Club, considered a ‘big’ in the AFL.
“So what about size?” the AFL fan cries. “AFL players are stronger!”
For their size, maybe. But let’s not forget that NBA players are physically bigger than AFL players, and the days of beanpoles dominating basketball courts are well and truly over.
Of course there are examples of lean or small NBA players like Ray Allen or Brandon Jennings who would struggle with full body contact. But make no mistake – basketball is far from “non-contact.” AFL fans who mock NBA players as weaklings are actually ignoring the fact that if we graded both sports’ strength on a curve, the lower part of the bell would be mostly AFL. And just be thankful Shaquille O Neal retired, or the strength bell curve would be even more lopsided!
“OK, so maybe being smaller means that AFL players are faster!”
Except they’re not faster. I compared the short burst speed of draftees from both sports. The average NBA draftee is around 0.3m/s faster than the average AFL draftee, despite carrying (again, on average) more bulk.
If we look at the top tier, absolute fastest AFL players and compare them with the NBA’s fastest, we can see a difference. Over a 100m sprint, Derrick Rose would pip Joel Wilkinson (AFL’s fastest player according to AFL.com.au) by around 2 metres.
How is a smaller and slower athlete supposed to impress me?
“If they’re so big and are running so fast, their agility probably pales in comparison.”
Agility is the one area I’m unfortunately unable to use hard stats to back up my case. I will say, however, that every time I go to an AFL game, the first thing that strikes me is the lack of agility. They change direction in slow motion compared to basketballers. Part of this is down to the playing surface and their low-cut boots, but even players like Judd, Swan, Ablett seem to lack the agility of NBA players. Only an insane person could possibly think that Scott Pendlebury would come close to Rajon Rondo on a witches-hat course. Cyril Rioli is the only AFL player I’ve seen who would come close. However, as I said, I can’t back this up with raw stats, so let’s be generous to AFL and call agility a draw.
“So what? The play for about 5 minutes then sit down!”
Yes. Endurance. The solitary area in which AFL players can rightfully claim to be elite. Their stamina is absolutely incredible, particularly onball players. Outside of triathlon, marathon etc I cannot imagine there are many athletes who could compete with AFL players on stamina. I have no doubt that many NBA players could compete with a full forward or full back on stamina, but no way could they compete with a midfielder. So yes, I admit/concur/concede… AFL takes the cake for stamina.
So. Let’s recap.
NBA: Superior strength, speed, leaping ability, size, power
AFL: Superior endurance.
Remind me again, which sport is supposed to impress me more?
Even though I think I’ve already proven my point, I want to use my Uno “Wild+Draw Four” card.
This is checkmate.
This is me catching the Golden Snitch.
This is my ‘don’t argue” palm to the chest of pro-AFL-athleticism arguments.
This is LeBron James.
I am not a LeBron James fan. But my God. He is a force of nature. Watching him play basketball, you wonder how one human can possess so many physical gifts. The man could have picked any major sport growing up and utterly dominated. Is there any other athlete alive you could say the same thing about? He would be fastest and strongest player in the AFL by a country mile. Six foot eight inches tall. 113kg of pure muscle. Power off the charts. If he wants to get from A to B, there isn’t a footy player alive that could stop him.
NBA players are just plain more impressive physical specimens. How the hell am I supposed to be impressed with the physical gifts of Buddy Franklin when I’ve watched a man do this? Or this? Or this? Or this? Or this?
No, I’m sorry. I can definitely appreciate the skill of AFL players, I can get caught up in a close game and I can marvel at the stamina of some players. But after that all they get from me is a “Meh.” As long as the NBA continues to have men like LeBron James playing in the league, AFL players will always seem second rate athletically.
I’m not saying the AFL sucks in the same way that NFL clearly sucks. The AFL boasts a unique and impressive skill set and like most sports a good quality match is fun to watch. I have no problem with people liking/loving the AFL.
But please stop pretending they’re world-leading athletes when they’re not.
Please stop your condescension towards basketball, a game played by stronger and faster men.
And please understand that some people are not going to share your obsession, because for some of us the AFL is simply… “meh.”