Out of Bounds: Few tough players remain in soft NBA

Poor Willis Reed must have a hard time sleeping. For the man who pumped horse tranquilizer into his torn thigh so he could stagger out and claim his first ring, watching today's NBA must be torture. The league has become soft.

Honestly, this is the best advice for NBA hopefuls: Join your school's theater club. Acting is becoming an inseparable part of the game. Serious question: Why hasn't the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences recognized Paul Pierce's 2008 Oscar-worthy Game 1 performance? I half expected a tearful Simba to run onto the court and shake the fallen starlet.

Is this what the game has become? Blatant theatrics and a sad display of wimpiness? Pretty much. Those with the desire to win at any cost, the quintessential gladiators who fight 'till they drop, are disappearing from the NBA. The fans suffer for it. They are left watching Anderson Varejao lament over his nicks and scrapes with Shakespearean passion. While Chris Bosh is busy out flopping every fish on land not named Manu Ginobili, let's take a moment and tip our hats to some of the few tough players left in the league.

Try playing 10 minutes with one foot. Now try playing 48 games with one foot. That is what Portland Trailblazers wing Wesley Matthews did in 2011. For over half the season he played with a torn tendon to the point that he “couldn't feel [his] right foot. It was completely numb,” Matthews told Joe Freeman at The Oregonian. He played through a major injury to help his team reach the playoffs. He gritted his teeth and sacrificed himself for the team's success.

While a torn tendon is certainly serious, it takes a backseat to gunshot wounds. During the 2008-2009 season, Houston Rockets forward Carl Landry was shot in the leg following a car crash. Landry, however, bounced back and returned to play less than a month later. He went on to help his team make the playoffs and advance to the second round.

Landry actually gets double points for having his teeth smashed in by Dirk Nowitzki the following year, only to return four days later and drop 27 points against the Los Angeles Clippers. Doctors later removed pieces of Landry's teeth from Nowitzki's elbow. Talk about a trooper.

When it comes to on-court injuries, however, Steve Nash deserves the biggest trophy imaginable. Nash has a long history of bloody wounds that have yet to stop him. Back in the 2007 playoffs he collided with San Antonio Spurs point guard Tony Parker and opened a gash in his nose. Looking like he just concluded a bout with Rocky Balboa, Nash and his spurting nose continued to play until the referees ushered him to the bench.

In 2010, Nash took an elbow to the mouth, driving his tooth through his upper lip. He would need seven stiches yet he still returned to the game. During that same year, an elbow to the head swelled his eye completely shut. But did he leave? Nope. He played through it, eventually winning the game. No flops. No acting. He played hard.

Any follower of the NBA knows who is coming next. The Black Mamba. Vino. Kobe Bryant. No player in the league has his toughness. In fact, no player ever can match his pain tolerance. Bryant plays through it all: sprains, bruises, torn tendons and even broken bones.

In the 2009-2010 season alone, Bryant played with a dislocated pinky finger and broken index finger on his shooting hand. Yet, despite these injuries, Bryant averaged 27 points per game in 73 games. For comparison, upcoming star Kyrie Irving missed over a month this season with a similar injury. Bryant won a ring that year too.

Bryant is still going too. He is in his 17th year in the league yet he still competes harder than anyone else. He makes no excuses. On March 14 he suffered a severe sprain. His ankle was so swollen it looked like a potato. Bryant's response? “Big boy pants time for me,” he tweeted. No excuses, no whining - Kobe found a way to play.

It is a sad state of affairs when players resort to theatrics and turn the NBA into a 1980s soap opera. It shows a lack of class and a lack of respect for the game. Players like Bryant and Nash are a dying breed. If so few of the younger players show any kind of toughness or maturity, what will become of the NBA when the warriors leave?