Of the four major professional sports leagues, (NFL, MLB, NHL, NBA) the NBA is my least favorite. Don't get me wrong, I don't hate it (Although I do hate their trophy). It's just that one of them had to come in last (I don't subscribe to that whole "we love our children the same" school of parenting. We know who the favorites are). I can still enjoy going to a Denver Nuggets game and sitting at the bar watching a game with friend can be fun -- unless that friend is a Lakers fan. Then it's unbearable. Anyway, left to my own devices I don't watch a whole bunch of NBA basketball.
So when the lockout threatened to cancel the entire NBA season I felt pretty much the same way I would feel if they decided to cancel Pawn Stars. Sure I'd watch it if it was on, but it's not like I was going to lose any sleep over it if it wasn't. Incidentally, the NBA owners would have made out way better if they had Rick from Pawn Stars doing their negotiating. "You want 51 percent of basketball-related income? Uh, the best I can do is five."
But level heads prevailed and the NBA started their season on Christmas Day. Still, the lockout left some bad feelings among the more casual fans and NBAneeds to make some amends. So as a late Christmas present to all of you I'm going to make my 100% unscientific suggestions to the league that will keep the game pretty well intact for the die-hard fans but will improve upon the things that bother me and other casual fans. I have two small suggestions and one major change that I think everyone can accept to ensure the enjoyment of NBA basketball for years.
Change No. 1: Shot clock will be cut down to 10 seconds for the last two minutes of the first three quarters. What would that accomplish? That would effectively put an end to the practice of playing for the last shot in any quarter but the last. Look, the NBA game is 48 minutes long, 12 minutes shorter than a hockey or football game. Now you're going to stand around for 15 seconds to run some of that precious time off? I probably wouldn't be annoyed if they didn't call it "playing for the last shot" and just called it what it was: Taking a li'l break. "Nene gets the rebound with 18 seconds left in the half, passes it off to Lawson. Lawson's gonna take a li'l break." Look, I've punched a time clock enough in my life to know that the last little bit of time before a break or going home generally isn't the most productive. When I worked at Taco Bell in high school, the last 15 minutes of my shifts were spent making sure a two square foot section of the counter was spotless. But no one paid to see me work at Taco Bell. Let's play all the way to the horn, boys.
I have never heard a legitimate reason for playing for the last shot in any quarter but the last. Someone told me the idea was to limit the number of possessions for your opponent. But if it comes at the expense of limiting good possessions for your team, then what's the point? Every time I see a team stall for the last shot, I fool myself into getting excited. "Here we go," I say. "Nuggets are going to hit an open shot right at the buzzer and carry all the momentum into the next quarter." And, shame on me, no one does anything until about four seconds are left and all they can come up with is an off balance three-pointer. Speaking of which:
Change No. 2: Move the three-point line up. Or back. Or leave it the same, I'm not sure. OK, to be fair this is not so much a suggestion as a gripe. What I do know is that there is nothing more exciting in a basketball game than when a team is down by 10 but has a shooter get hot from the three-point line. The deficit turns into a lead in a matter of minutes. On the flip side, nothing is more boring than when an offense is doing nothing creative whatsoever and just clanging one three-point attempt after another off the rim. So do something that fixes this to keep the excitement but lose the boring stuff. Maybe make a rule that if you are going to take a three-point shot, you have to make it. Or if you miss two in a row, you have to score six points from inside the arc before you can try again. Let's brainstorm this because I think I'm on to something.
Change No. 3 (the biggie): Get rid of all of the officials and let the players police the game themselves. Sweet Fancy Mary I would love it if they gave every NBA ref a pink slip. I would become the biggest NBA fan overnight. Listen, the NBA officials are an oft maligned group. A Google search of "bad NBA refs" brings back some of the most prolific non-pornographic results lists I've seen. I read several articles , and NBA Commissioner David Stern's defense is generally along the lines of "Well, if you didn't complain about the officiating so much it wouldn't seem so bad," which proves that Stern is on some highly enlightened metaphysical plane that I can only dream of attaining
I know an umpire's strike zone can resemble an amorphous blob and pass interference in football is a crapshoot. But baseball needs someone to call balls and strikes quickly and football needs officials to keep track of all of the many many many rules. As far as hockey goes, when you put a bunch of very competitive people on a slippery surface with sticks in their hands and knives on their feet, it's probably a good idea to have someone keeping the peace.
But basketball is the one team sport that would be virtually unchanged without refs. If contact made you alter your shot, call a foul. If not, play on.
"Excuse me, Mr. Howard?"
"Yes Mr. James?"
"Well, I was shooting this basketball, but when your elbow collided with my eye I was unable to score."
"Aren't I quite the boob, Mr. James!? How do you suggest we remedy this faux pas?"
"Well, what if I were able to shoot twice from this line while you stood at a respectable distance?"
"I find your solution gentlemanly and fair."
Hairy calls would be figured out by a quick powwow between coaches. If a ball goes out and it's tough to tell who gets possession, roshambo.
Removing the officials from the NBA would instantly fix several issues I have. For starters, flopping would go away. Well, it might still happen but there wouldn't be any fouls called for it. Sorry Manu Ginobili, but you gotta go. If Chris Paul is like the Slinky in the commercial, beautifully gliding its way down stair after stair, then Manu Ginobili is the Slinky you actually get, that slinks down one stair like it's supposed to before tumbling and twisting its way down and coming to a rest stretched out at the bottom of the stairs. Did that Slinky earn a trip to the free throw line? I think not.
Another thing I can't stand: the head fake to draw the foul. And I am going to catch flack for this but Denver hero Chauncey Billups is a pretty bad offender on this one. Guy with the ball head fakes toget the defender off his feet, then jumps into him while throwing up a lame duck that would make Tim Tebow blush, all in the name of earning a trip to the free throw line. If no one were around to call a foul, defender says "Dude, that's lame." Shooter says "Yeah, you're right. You guys take the ball"
I actually did a little statistical analysis for this essay and pulled a hammy, which is why this took me a little longer to write. But in two randomly selected Nuggets games from last year, about 20 percent of the total points were scored from free throws. Small sample size, maybe, but 20 percent of points being scored when the game is at a dead stop is too much.
Don't even get me started on technical fouls. They have become so common that they have lost all meaning as a way to deter unsportsmanlike behavior. Essentially technical fouls are the "NO, YOU SHUT UP!!!!" of professional sports officiating.
I explained my idea to a die-hard NBA fan friend of mine.
"Would never work," he said. "The game would just get rougher and rougher until it resembled 'Power Ball' on those American Gladiators shows from the 90s."
Well that would be pretty awesome too.