I like this idea, the one putting the Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Lakers on an outdoor court. I like it a lot.
But then, I’m part of the generation that can recognize The Professor, Hot Sauce, AO, and the rest of the And 1 Streetball crew almost as readily as I can Carmelo, Kobe, AI, and the rest of the NBA. I’ve played NBA Street and NBA Ballers and I’ve thought about what our best basketball players could do on the blacktops the average Joe plays on. This game is more than a novelty; it’s a realization of a dream.
Yet I worry about it, too: We have the same worries about injuries one sees in the NFL’s preseason, plus one more.
Players in the NBA routinely get knocked for playing at less than full throttle in regular season games; the preseason is little less than a glorified way to let the people priced out of season tickets see a few games in person and a reason for ESPN and the powers that be to begin hyperventilating over the NBA and cut into some of the NFL and college football’s dominion on the fall, and there’s no reason to think players will be playing at anything more than 50% in totally meaningless games rather than somewhat meaningful games.
So you have the baseline injury risk in basketball, where a freak torn ACL can end a season in less than a second, potentially raised to a higher power with lackadaisical play.
And then, there’s the court.
NBA stars are accustomed to professionally installed and highly polished hardwood flooring in climate-controlled splendor; no matter what is done at the Indian Wells Tennis Center, I would submit that the court quality will not be quite what the players are used to, and that could contribute to catastrophe.
How would Lakers fans react to Kobe Bryant, in a nationally televised preseason game, playing hard late in the third quarter to erase a ten-point lead, getting tangled up with a big underneath the hoop, and shredding his knee by hitting an unfamiliar and potentially inferior court just wrong?
There is no small amount of risk here, in taking players out of their element and their routine (no, not many preseason games have the added spotlight of TNT), of something going horribly, horribly wrong.
But I don’t think it will, and I hope it won’t.
The NBA is on a winning streak, with a spate of trades this season revitalizing the usually moribund regular season and a fantastic All-Star Weekend giving New Orleans the PR-friendly efforts of Day of Service, maybe David Stern’s finest decision, and the thrills of a spectacular Dunk Contest and a better-than-average All-Star Game.
Why not replicate some of that with this game? Invite some old-timers who really, unlike today’s players, grew up shooting on metal hoops in wire cages, to play a game to 21, or do the same thing for some of the better streetballers in the country; better yet, see if you could match that old school against the new school. Have the Nuggets and Lakers play H-O-R-S-E. Best of all, bring two teams of local kids together and have them play a game with NBA start coaching.
The benefits outweigh the potential costs, other than transforming a tennis court into a presumably hardwood floor, and it’s not even a contest: Who has ever been
this actually excited for an NBA preseason game before?
Better yet, who remembers Tim Donaghy?
This is another really smart move by a league that seems to have figured out its image problem was really a product problem. This year, organically, with teams daring to win the championship rather than stand pat and David Stern making a good-faith effort to improve New Orleans rather than pander to the forces who squired the game to Las Vegas last year, the product got better; the image has followed suit.
And, yeah, right now, the tagline’s right: The NBA is where amazing happens.