Happy New Year! I hope you all enjoyed a holiday season full of blessings and in the manner you hoped to.
A somewhat cliché or typical thing to do when entering a new year is to set resolutions, goals, or a list of wants for the duration of the year to come. In this week’s installment of Friday Five’s, I compiled five things I either want or hope for in the next decade for the Association. So with this in mind, let’s dive into the first Friday Five’s of 2020.
1.) Implement a Four Referee System
I would love to lead the charge in a proposition to the NBA Competition Committee. Three of my overarching goals for this initiative would be eliminating missed calls, quicker decisions to speed up the game, and more viability per officiating crew. The extra set of eyes would allow for far less ambiguity among other things. The rotations for any given scenario would, of course, have to be tweeked but this would make officiating easier than in the three referee method. The aforementioned three referee method debuted in the NBA in the late 1970’s and was officially implemented by late former Commissioner and Hall of Famer David Stern in the summer of 1988.
In the 1980s, while the evolution of the NBA was taking shape under Stern, take a look at the reasoning for adding an extra official.
The next few quotes are from The New York Times and come courtesy of Hall of Fame former player and team executive who also served as NBA Vice President of Basketball Operations from 1986-2000, Rod Thorn.
”The game has become faster and quicker and is being played by bigger people,” said Rod Thorn, the executive vice president of operations, ”and it’s our opinion that an extra pair of eyes would aid in covering the entire court more.”
”With two officials, there are times now that the entire court is not covered,” Thorn said. ”With a third official it reduces the decisions each official has to make from one-half to a third of the court. It’s also our feeling that with six pair of eyes watching the court, fewer violent acts would go undetected, and the players will become aware that they no longer can get away with some of the cute physical things they may have gotten away with that two officials have been unable to pick up.”
When asked whether the implementation of a third referee would increase the frequency of fouls called, Thorn said “not necessarily.”
History indeed repeats itself.
In assessing Thorn’s quotes from 1988, it seems fitting for another official to be added to our game in present day. Not only has a style of play evolution occurred, but there are obvious glitches in the system that render officials to much scrutiny. The overall skill and speed of the game combined with the athleticism of the athletes on the court have made the demands on officials even tougher.
Adding the fourth official would directly address the flaws of the three official system that is now four decades old. As the on court talent evolves, so should the system used to officiate players, and the way the game is called. Step by step, I fully expect this system to be implemented. It may start on the college level then work its way to the G-League before surfacing in the NBA, but this is a necessary change.
2.) Less Free Throws, Official intervention Please
There are far too many stoppages in play. Many games lack the flow that would keep fans, especially of Generation Z. The stoppages in play allow for other entities of the world in this electronically driven era of the world to distract viewership. The following of the NBA by fans may not have ever been higher, but the number of fans that can say they have viewed entire games from start to finish has indeed dwindled down. The fight for attention of fans can be addressed with less stoppage in play.
Not only does the stoppage in play need to be addressed for viewership and monetary purposes, but also for optics regarding the game itself. There are many gimmicks that have become a trend across the league by players to gain a competitive advantage. The players cannot be at fault, as their only goal is to win the game at hand by any means necessary. The IQ of players like Chris Paul, Kevin Durant, and James Harden is so high that they have come up with witty and manipulative ways to draw fouls. While this is much to their credit of playing toward the construct of the system that regulates games, it has in turn become frowned upon because it takes away from the authenticity of the game at times. The officials and the competition committee need to have a sit down and redefine what is truly a found and what is not.
No one tunes in for a free throw fest or even to see superstar players in foul trouble. Having less fouls called, and much more up and down pace to the games would address the issues that Commissioner Adam Silver has said they are working towards.
Relevant to the friendly nature of most athletes in the NBA, rivalries have become a thing of the past. The players have relationships dating back to middle school, AAU circuits, as well as national team play. A direct result of that is them wanting to see each other do well far more than them wanting to annihilate their counterparts the way players in the 1980’s, 1990’s, and early 2000’s set out to do. It’s not to suggest that these players lack the competitiveness that players of the past did, but it does highlight that they go about it differently.
A lot of what drove ratings from previous decades in the NBA was the obvious disdain players, teams, and even franchises had for each other. This is partly a byproduct of the NBA doing away with the relevance of divisional titles which removed the proximity rivalry aspect. What also hurt the rivalry aspect was the change in officiating. Safety had to be prioritized when more fouls began to be called, of course. But less physical play leads to less confrontation and less antagonizing amongst players. For anyone who plays sports, we all know how much more engaged and dynamic a game setting becomes when there are exchanges in physical dominance that occur.
The NBA sorely misses the presence of rivalries in any of the aforementioned contexts. I would absolutely LOVE for a few rivalries to be sprinkled across the league both amongst players and franchises. Magic and Bird had in-depth context to their relationship but were bitter rivals on the court, seemingly everyone was a rival to Jordan, and even the early 2000’s had rivalries amongst franchises and superstars that drove the ratings through the roof.
I pray we get rivalries amongst guys like Giannis and Embiid, Doncic and Trae Young, and especially inter-conference rivalries that we can get 7 game series’ out of come playoff time.
4.) Balance Between Conferences
This past summer, we saw a lot of player movement. There are a lot more stars in the Western Conference than in the Eastern Conference now. However, when gauging the level of play of teams in each respective conference, there seems to be a balanced level of parody achieved. The emergence of teams in the middle of the pack and eager to compete with the presumed favorites of each conference has created narratives to follow. There are many dynamics that go into reestablishing balance, but the league seems to have inched its way closer to that now that the Warriors borderline dynastic run (which then featured Kevin Durant for the latter portion smh) has ended. Keeping this somewhat even is also a little entity that goes a long way toward helping with the aforementioned viewership issue.
5.) Continued Evolution and Globalization of the NBA as a Brand
Here is my wish list of entities to be addressed in this decade
- Fan Engagement
- Games/Tournaments in other Countries
- The Age of Incoming Athletes
- G-League ascension
- The Start of Free Agency
These are a few aspects of the game that I feel need to continue to grow. The power of the players to use their platforms is quite possibly the best thing to come from the previous decade. That can be attributed to social media amongst other things, but with that has come the ascension of the NBAs brand. I feel that the NBA is the absolute best professional association in large part because of that. The ability for fans to both have access to and identify with players has allowed the brand to ascend by leaps and bounds. We see the struggles of the NFLs Player Association and the power struggle they are trying to address with the staunch ownership realm of their league. The NBA in this next decade has no reason to not become the best league, leapfrogging the NFL, in my opinion amongst the masses. The innovative, daring, and always optimistic leadership of Adam Sliver has also created a democracy like feeling, a contrast to the dictatorship-like feeling that the NFL (dubbed the No Fun League) has at times. If the NBA does not ascend more toward being deemed the best league, I feel the brand would be being done a great disservice.
Instances like last season where both the MVP and MIP were of foreign descent speak volumes to the globalization of the game, along with entities like the NBA Africa program that occurred every summer, and games played on foreign turn throughout the preseason by the same measure.
I love the state of the NBA at the moment, and the potential for growth across the board that is possible. I also trust and believe in the leadership of Adam Sliver to captain the continued evolution of our league. I would like to remind anyone who took the time to read my post to remain optimistic about any proposed changes for Silver moving forward. It is seemingly human nature to fret at the thought of change and become too reactionary. We all have the same goal in seeing the evolution of our league. Keep open mind and allow for occurrences/proposals to play out before stamping a feeling toward them.
I appreciate the read, please feel free to share with me what you think would be a productive or effective change the league should implement, or something you would like to see occur in the next decade.