Because it gives them something to talk and create controversy about. They cling to this idea that the NBA players are becoming softer and less competitive, etc. In reality is the game is different, in both dominant style, position, and rules.
Example we hear today: "Players today are too friendly towards each other". or "players care too much about stats"
The first thing I would do every morning was look at the box scores to see what Magic did. I didn't care about anything else. -Larry Bird
Larry Bird only played for stats. He didn't even care about winning as much as just what his stats were. Luckily he was on a stacked team for most of his career to win some championships. Kevin Mchale is the true FMVP... when Cedric Maxwell wasn't carrying Bird to a title his sophomore year. If he had cared more about the game then he would of worked harder to stay in shape and not get injured.
"I've always respected my opponents and him greatly because of the fact he was so good," Bird said. "Everybody said there was a hate element. There wasn't hate. I just had so much respect. You never let your guard down because he was so good." -Larry Bird
This proves that these guys were not competitors. Look at how Bird compliments Johnson, he obviously has no drive or competitive fire. A real competitor wouldn't compliment his opponent. Would Bill Russell or Wilt ever do this? He even admits there was no real rivalry because people made up a hate element.
Does any of that sound familiar to things we might hear today? That sounds nothing like Larry Bird. It's just assumptions drawn from taking what Bird says out of context that I worded as fact and put "proof" behind to stir up some controversy because what I'm used to hearing about Bird is getting old. But he did say those things. And really, out of context we can really make some cases against Larry Bird now.
If the NBA would loosen up a little bit (been a decade) combined with the NBA already shifting back to stacked teams similar to times when the best rivalries were happening then things like rivalries and hard nosed basketball return to the game. Today, NBA still treats players like pre schoolers. They need to dress a certain way, act a certain way, embody certain characteristics, and always be conscious of how what they are doing effects the NBA. If they don't comply, they are punished. If they talk back, they're punished. As it is now, players will see the spotlight they're in. They know that they have to say exactly the right thing every time because if you mess up, it'll be known.
I guess the media pushes stories like mentioned in OP because they stopped just relaying real news and started making their own. Big name players know that they have to be very politically correct to survive today's sports media. So now that players are becoming more aware, they put on this "i'm a nice guy" image which is just that, an image. But what can the media do? They can't just plain make up big head lines, so they alter and exaggerate real news, facts, quotes etc. Thing is, "buddy-buddy lebron and KD" doesn't sell as good as conflict. I think that's why they feel the need for all the comparisons to old players. I don't think anyone enjoys basketball as much as when they first started watching it. Media knows that before a casual fan reads "90s was the strongest nba era" it already sees "(Your favorite era) was the (best)". Then you will read that article and think 'hey, this article is really good.'
Kind of a chain reaction, actually. Artest punches fan -----> Media coverage forces NBA to do total overhaul and restore NBA image because of it's portrayal of it afterwards ------> players are forced to become boring and politically correct -----> media bitterly creates a rift between toughness and mental fortitude of their "golden days" of the nba and modern day players ------> players do not react ----> 2014 where we are entering a really amazing and unique era in pro ball but all we hear about is the agenda that tells us things look downhill from here.
TL;DR: Artest punched fan, NBA changed rules and hired Jet-Puffed to restore NBA image, media stops reporting the news as much as deciding the news and begins a rift between old school and new school.