The rise of bigs who score from the perimeter—a style foreign to most traditional centers that is often associated with the Europeans who began flooding the league in the 1980s—is also frequently pointed to as a source of less post play.
Sports Illustrated's Chris Ballard believes there has been a decline in relatable centers in the last decade, with skills that can be duplicated by their fans. He said there is no modern-day skyhook—Abdul-Jabbar's signature shot—which is still commonly seen on pickup courts by people of all sizes. This has resulted in fewer emerging players striving to mirror careers of the past generation's low-post tacticians.
"Shaq was cool," Ballard said of the 7'1", 300-plus pound behemoth, "but he was so unfathomable. Who could play like Shaq? There's no skill set to mimic. It was being huge. Duncan wasn't cool at all. [He was] fundamental. Nothing he did was flashy."
While suiting up in front of his locker room stall for a January game in Oakland against the Golden State Warriors, the Orlando Magic's 6'11" Dwight Howard said he agrees with this assessment.
"Nobody really talks about center," said Howard, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year. "Center isn't a flashy position, but it's the centerpiece for the team."
Centers are often ignored, according to Howard, because they usually score less. "Most people don't understand it because all they care about is one thing, and that's points," he said.
Scoring decides results, but often it's the little, less recognized duties that help produce points and actually win basketball games. "Scoring doesn't get you titles," said Howard. "Scoring doesn't get you nothing but scoring titles, or, you know, you look good on SportsCenter."
Howard would go out and have a monster night, securing 23 rebounds and tying his career-high of 45 points as he guided his team to victory. He also broke a 50-year-old mark held by Chamberlain for the most free throw attempts in a game. Reporters were all too happy to make the Chamberlain comparison after the game, which was fair. His performance was a classic example of how decisive a center can still be in the league today. But Howard admits that center was not even his first choice of positions.
"I always wanted to be a point guard," he said.
There's also the question of training. Jerry West, who played guard for the Lakers in the '60s and '70s, believes that the shortage in centers had led to another deficit: a lack of coaches able to teach the position.
"I don't say that it's a lost art," said West, "but it's not something that many people can teach, I don't think."
The problem has been exacerbated by younger and younger players entering the NBA, which is one of the reasons Clifford Ray, who is considered one of the foremost authorities on coaching centers, said fewer teams now have this essential rim protector. Little or no time in college has prevented these big men from gaining this specific skill set, while at the same time growing physically, mentally and technically. Since 2006, the league has prevented players right out of high school from becoming available in the draft. Now they must wait a full calendar year whether they play in college or not.