A call for change in the NBA
With change on everybody's mind, let's turn our attention to improving the NBA
All-Star weekend would benefit from a dramatic makeover -- and overseas venue
More suggested changes: New draft-lottery system and more access to referees
Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas went so far as to tattoo one of the new administration's mottos on the fingers of his left hand: "Change (index) we (middle) believe (ring) in (pinky).''
Change is good. Change is alluring. Change suggests different and better and new, which is why I never fully understood the phrase "keep the change.'' If you're keeping something, then you're not changing. Anyway, lining up against change is like lining up against Mom and oxygen, although I'm not sure many of us would risk changing either of those very hastily.
Still, change is appealing. It's a fresh start, a rebirth of sorts, a time to assess and abandon old ways in order to identify and embrace new ones. Which, of course, will become the old ways down the road, to be assessed and abandoned soon enough by someone else. Otherwise, the very concept of change dies, and we all know that the one constant in life is change.
With that in mind, here are my suggestions for changes in the NBA. Some of these are big things, some of these are small. Some are irritants to plenty of the casual fans I talk to, some of them qualify as pet peeves. Some of them, too, are dead, solid serious while others are, well, less so. I might not change your mind and I probably won't change any of the rules, bylaws or practices at NBA headquarters in New York. But I have a hunch I will change something, if only the long-held custom of numbering lists like this or keeping them to traditional five- or 10-item cutoffs. Heck with that, we're talking change here!
Come to think of it, the list will stretch as long as you let it. Send your own suggestions to the Mailbag here -- finishing the sentence, "The NBA needs to change ______'' -- and we'll run the best, the most sensible and the most entertaining in an upcoming column. Till then, here are some ideas:
Ticket prices. The U.S. economy is sputtering like no other time since the Great Depression, and I guarantee that NBA tickets didn't gouge nearly as much from the average fan's household budget then as now. Even, er, inflation-adjusted. Seriously, attendance at an NBA game -- for the folks I know -- has become a special event, when you factor in the costs of seats, parking and refreshments. The league might want to get ahead of the curve on this too; if President Obama wants to tighten fat tax loopholes, going after the deductibility of corporate season tickets-for-entertainment is one way that won't squeeze Joe The Plumber.
"Expiring contract'' rules. I'm not volunteering to rewrite the salary-cap rules of the collective bargaining agreement any more than I would wade into the IRS tax code, but something needs to be done here. It's bad enough that teams keep guys around who offer no athletic assistance to their present or future on-court success, just because their contracts are valuable chips for personnel moves. It's even worse that fans actually talk, speculate and argue about guys like Raef LaFrentz and Stromile Swift for no other reason than the salaries they won't be getting paid after this season. I swear, Theo Ratliff got more run as an "expiring contract'' than he ever got as a real, live, contributing player.
The standard-issue playlist of arena rock anthems. Everywhere you go in this league, you hear the same music, both too loud and too familiar, whether it's Queen, the Alan Parsons Project, Guns N' Roses or Beyonce. Even if you don't go anywhere, you hear it, too -- the background noise on TNT, ESPN or local telecasts is impossible to miss, and reminds you of what a fast-food nation we've become (everybody's got to have a Starbucks, a Subway and a Wendy's, right?). So mix it up. Hold contests in each city in which fans submit their iPod playlists, with the winner providing the music for a night. Hold a "tournament'' of songs on the team's Web site, with fans voting for their favorites. Frankly, I think the great undiscovered gem of arena rock would be Ringo Starr's Back Off Boogaloo, an oldie to which it's impossible not to a) sing, b) clap or c) dance. Or maybe that's just me.
Turn down the volume please, too.
The NBA needs to change All-Star weekend ... in only about a hundred different ways. I'll limit myself to four here: First, move the extravaganza overseas somewhere. Make it a Winter Classic in its own right by goosing the venue with some international flavor. Commissioner David Stern loves that global stuff anyway, and teams wouldn't risk alienating season-ticket holders who can't get their seats for every event. U.S. media coverage has been dwindling for years -- newsroom budgets are kind of tight these days, y'know? -- and bringing the league's biggest stars to Tokyo or Rio de Janeiro or Paris for four or five days would further market the game where its greatest growth lies.
Three more possibilities: Go U.S players vs. international just once. Or abandon the third quarter of the All-Star Game itself in favor of a series of one-on-one showdowns, pitting five individuals from each side in a shootout scenario, then incorporating the results somehow into the final score. Think of it: Kobe vs. LeBron, Duncan vs. Howard, Dwyane Wade vs. Yao Ming (why not?).
Oh, and this one: By whatever means necessary, kill off the rookie-sophomore game. Two years ago in Las Vegas, it was an embarrassment, the young guys trying to "casual'' their way through it the way the superstars do. It was little kids clomping around in daddy's big sneakers -- while playing around with daddy's power tools. Not cute.
OK, one more: Bring back the old-timers' game. Seniors generally are healthier than ever, we're told. And what better symbol of the new, emerging economy, in which people in their 60s and even their 70s still will have to work to make up for the damage done to their 401(k) accounts. The NBA can send a message to employers everywhere that keeping the old folks around is important.