There is a place for hard fouls in the game. Asserting physical dominance is part of any team sport. But it was out of hand by the late 80s and distracted from the game imo. Same with hockey fighting. I like the game today with the occasional fight and don't miss the knuckle draggers trying to hurt guys 20-30 years ago.
IMO, if you look at NBA games from the 80s, it was actually less physical than today overall. Guys didn't guard other guys beyond the arc. There wasn't a hand check or arm bar by the defender on every drive. There weren't James Hardens who were pushing off so much that they were actually launching defenders through the air. So the physical nature of the sport is alive and well but the refs have cleaned up a lot of the cheap garbage. I think they still need to clean up more.