Let’s start with the fact that the NBA is not broken. Even with the lockout. Even with the 66 game season. Even with the sad and unfortunate existence that is the New Orleans Hornets. Even with an All-Star weekend that is mostly underwhelming. The NBA is doing just fine thanks.
But, there is a huge opportunity for sports to modernize and the NBA is the perfect candidate to lead the evolution. The NBA is already the most individual sport. The NBA loves individuality and has long been noted for accepting hip-hop culture. The NBA “uniform” seems to be a mere suggestion at this point because the league allows headbands, leg sleeves, knee braces, arm sleeves, goggles, high socks, low socks, face masks, day-glo shoes, arm sleeves, exposed tattoos. Guys barely look like they are on the same team anymore.
As long as you get the shirt in shorts in there somewhere, you are good. Everything else is up for grabs. That gives us the perfect opportunity to make some changes. What should we change? I’ll get to that in a minute. Let’s talk about what’s broken.
The most obvious place the NBA needs to be fixed is the All-Star weekend. The 2012 All-Star weekend was so bad I reached my personal breaking point. The actual All-Star game was great, no defense, crazy dunks, and the best players in the world going at it with complete freedom. The rookie game is also decent. You get to see that player you loved in March Madness who got shipped to Sacramento actually play. Because everyone knows, no one actually watches Sacramento games.
I’m really talking about All-Star Saturday night.
That is the night where you get some of the classic competitions of All-Star Weekend. Sure, they’ve added that weird shooting event where they take a decent active player, match them with a retired player and a WNBA player and basically give a trophy to the team who can hit a shot from half-court the fastest. The better new addition is the skills challenge where point guards dribble, pass and shoot their way through an obstacle course as quickly as they can.
Yeah, I don’t understand why that is an event either, but the real issue is the big competitions, the three-point contest and the slam-dunk contest.
The classic competitions had the best players in the game. Larry Bird won the three-point contest along with current all time leader Ray Allen. (Reggie Miller missed out because his shooting motion didn’t match up well with the time limit and the rapid-fire technique you need to win.) Michael Jordan, Dr. J, Dominique Wilkins and Kobe Bryant won the Slam Dunk contest. These are some of the most explosive players ever.
As opposed to the greatest players in the game going into battle to show they are the best at some particular skill, they all take the weekend off. They throw parties and host comedy shows. They dress up in suits and ties and mug for the camera in the front row in these competitions instead of strapping on the sneakers and participating.
Sometime in the mid-90’s slam dunks stopped being cool.
People have lots of theories about why these competitions are so bad. Some say the dunk contest is a victim of itself. Because the dunks had to keep getting more complicated to be unique, guys started missing their dunks. So they adjusted the rules so a miss didn’t hurt so badly. Back in the day, if you missed your windmill dunk the first time, you ended up with a score of thirty-five and tanked your chances of winning. So they “fixed it” by giving guys ninety seconds to get it right, which somehow became more painful. Nothing is worse than watching a guy start to tire out and get anxious after he misses a 360 dunk off the backboard for the eighth time.
Wait, there actually is something more painful. Watching a guy you’ve never seen before miss a 360 dunk off the backboard for the eighth time. Where did they find these guys this year? They pulled guys from Indiana, Utah, Houston and Minnesota. I’m not talking about the best players from these teams, I’m talking about a random collection of guys who might have picked up their jerseys off the NBA store that weekend. I’m not saying they can’t ball, I’m just saying it pales in comparison to Blake Griffin, LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Dwight Howard, and Andre Iguodala. You know, actual All-Stars.
Everyone is debating how to get these guys to actually participate. A kid tried to shame LeBron into the dunk contest on YouTube. Some suggested giving the players a million dollar bonus for winning. Others are still trying to adjust the rules to make it more exciting. This year they even turned voting over to Twitter. I’ve come up with a simple solution that fixes everything.
Video games do it. Social media networks do it. The military does it. Even the NFL and NHL give their guys a little emblem for being a captain. I think adding a few badges to the NBA will bring all the big stars out. It would help the NBA evolve into a sport ready for the social media and infographic era. When a player wins a dunk contest, they get to have a little star on their shoulder. Win a three-point contest? You get a small colored bar. Take home a scoring title, and you get a badge that looks like a basketball. League MVP? Here are some epaulets for your shoulder. Kris Humphries and Lamar Odom can both have “I banged a Kardashian” badges. They could be shaped like butt cheeks.
In the NBA the black guy would have the same smile, plus all those badges you see on the right.
It could even extend to the team jerseys. It would bring a sense of history and legacy to the game. The Lakers would have sixteen stars, the Celtics would have seventeen, the Bulls six. There is precedent for this too. They do it for World Cup wins in soccer. Brazil throws five stars above their crest so no one ever forgets how many times they’ve been the best in the world. They even already do something like it on the NBA All Star Jerseys.
Designed properly, the uniforms could still look uniform without getting too crazy. You think LeBron James wouldn’t like a slam dunk championship star to go with his 8 all star selections, 2 MVP awards, 2 time All Star MVP and scoring championship badges until he gets that championship ring? Wouldn’t it be cool to see Dwight Howard with three Defensive Player of the year badges on his jersey? You immediately give new fans a way to know which players are special and let the players show their achievements without making someone dig through Wikipedia.
We live in a visual, quick reference society. The NBA is the perfect place for a testing ground to make the history of the game visual. Guys would get back into these competitions for the right to get something special added to their jerseys. Infographics have given us a way to take a quick glance at pertinent information. The NBA 3.0 would bring that to life. We are a “right now” society that doesn’t appreciate what has happened in the past. Make it easy, make it visible. It would be impossible not to know how dominant the Celtics were. It would be interesting to quickly show young fans that the lowly Houston Rockets won two titles in 1994 and 1995. The change would bring a lot of perspective to the game. Plus, it would bring the big boys back out to compete for some of these prizes and get back to entertaining the fans.