Roundtable: Basketball’s Return
Our roundtablers recently discussed enduring life in isolation, without basketball. All indication are that an official plan for resuming to play will be announced by the NBA soon. So let’s talk, for the first time in a long time, what we’re all really here for: hoops.
Did The Last Dance come at the perfect time, or the worst time? Was it good?
Dom Flaim: Both? In a time when I’m starved for sports I appreciate it being on. At the same time I’ve tired of the hysteria and nostalgia it brought back as well as tired old arguments from players yelling about “back in their day”. If it were just the series itself and not the talk surrounding it I’d like it more, and also would appreciate it if it wouldn’t be called a real “documentary”. It’s a documentary like any other ESPN 30 for 30 in that it’s overly romanticized and wants to go beyond presenting history neutrally.
Alex Mcewen: Perspective is all in the eye of the beholder. Yes, it came at a good time, because just like any other popular film or series it offered a talking point, distraction, and for many helped fill the void left by sports.
Tanner Johnson: I thought it came at a great time. I wasn’t alive to watch the 90s Bulls dominate year after year, so I enjoyed watching it go into detail about things I never knew about. The only thing I didn’t like was how it brought back the Jordan/LeBron GOAT debate, an argument that will never be won from either side. Just appreciate greatness. But every Sunday, I looked forward to watching a great story about basketball. I can’t wait to have the NBA back.
Ian Kayanja: Perfect time. It helped boost ESPN’s ratings, and also gave people something to look forward to weekly. Now, was it good basketball history? To some extent yes and no. They told a difficult story to tell because there is so much mythology surrounding Michael Jordan. It is like trying to tell a story about a Greek god, frankly. And anything MJ has to sign off on isn’t going to the most accurate. The first thing I think of is when he talks about the Supersonics vs. Bulls NBA finals. It’s okay to say Gary Payton gave him trouble, the stats back it up. Nonetheless, it was entertaining at the least and captivating at most.
Olivia Panchal: It came at the perfect time, but it didn’t fill my need for sports– it made it worse! Watching all of those classic playoff series just made me want to be back in the Peake avenging OKC’s 2018 first-round loss to the Jazz. I didn’t get into basketball until the Thunder came to OKC, so I actually learned quite a few things about NBA history from the documentary. However, I was most disappointed when Jordan disclosed that “The Flu Game” was actually the “The Food Poisoning Game” and not the “The Hangover Game.”
Brandon Rahbar: Perfect time. I haven’t had appointment TV on a Sunday night like this since Fox’s epic “In Living Colour” and “Married With Children” lineup. Plus, the LeBron stans (Olivia and John, I’m looking at you) needed a reminder of who is and will always be the true GOAT. That is, until “Lu Dort’s Last Dance” premieres in 2050.
Aidan Elrod: I’ll be honest, I have yet to watch The Last Dance. But from what I’ve seen on Twitter, it’s basically an infomercial for Jordan. That’s not to downplay it or anything, but just something that I’ve noticed. It definitely came at the right time, though, because it seems to be receiving high praise from nearly every major media outlet.
Cray Allred: Imagine the Warriors had the national spotlight when we were all without basketball, and everyone guzzled down 10 hours of how Kevin Durant’s decision was necessary, Draymond Green’s kicks were natural motions, and how the Thunder played a bit part in Steph Curry’s ascendancy past LeBron James. We were held hostage to watch Jordan’s myth-building, as if it needed any more of our attention. I loved the rare surprise clip, and Game 6: The Movie, but for a long docuseries with exclusive footage to burn, they didn’t give us much we hadn’t already seen. If Jordan wanted me to find him more interesting, a candy coated retelling of everything I already knew (with some “yeah so?s” thrown in for things like his aversion to social responsibility and his art of bullying) wasn’t the way to do it.
John Napier: It came out at the perfect time. Like Alex said, there is a void where sports used to be and this fills a little bit of that hole. As far as the value of the documentary, it’s entertainment. Whatever you thought about Michael Jordan, this documentary likely only supported your existing beliefs, but I found it entertaining.
Spenser Davis: I don’t understand the criticism that The Last Dance is somehow “bad journalism” because Michael Jordan had final cut. Rather, it shouldn’t be considered journalism at all. It’s a lot more fun when you take it as it is — a stylized version of Jordan’s career. If you want the uglier tale, there are plenty of places to get that as well.
Having seen empty arena wrestling, a virtual NFL draft, and HORSE streamed from smartphones, do you think if and when the NBA returns for real without fans, it will satisfy us as a viewing experience?
Flaim: I think at first it will, and has the potential to be really well done, but it certainly won’t be the same and I also expect the actual level of play to be a bit diminished. If they incorporate some way to involve people for crowd noise (AEW has done this in professional wrestling with having other wrestlers as a “crowd”) it makes a world of difference even to just have a little background noise and cheering. If they end up doing the draft remotely, however, I do think that will be just fine and won’t diminish the product at all.
Mcewen: I am not sure. It will be different. However, we live in a different world now. Just as anything else, we must adapt. Yes, it will be strange and I will miss the vibe from inside the arena. With that said, having the NBA back will be satisfying enough for me.
Johnson: It definitely won’t be the same, but I think most basketball fans will enjoy it just as much. Obviously it will suck not being able to hear Chesapeake Arena go wild during the playoffs like they do year in and year out, but I think it will definitely make things more interesting, and might even lead to more upsets. Maybe they will mic up the players?
Kayanja: At the end of the day, basketball is basketball. Whether it is streamed from an iPhone from a 1 million dollar ESPN camera, I will want to watch. I think many diehard basketball fans are the same way. The viewing experience may not be what it used to be, but it will be our new normal for a while. And for me, just having basketball will be enough.
Panchal: It won’t be the same and if you’re watching the local broadcast, you’re going to hear A LOT of Michael Cage euphemisms. However, I think we need sports more than ever right now. Sports are simultaneously so trivial at a time like this, but also extremely powerful at generating hope and a sense of unity. The only downside will be when OKC wins the championship and we have to postpone the parade.
Rahbar: Why would no fans in the stands stop me from watching and enjoying the NBA Playoffs? I watch and enjoy the Thunder when they’re playing a road game in Detroit, don’t I?
Elrod: I think people will assume that it won’t satisfy them, but in reality, they’ll be just fine without the fans. Personally, I never really notice fans enough that it makes a change in how much I enjoy a game. For example, last year’s thrilling game in Brooklyn against the Nets. Would watching that game and that ending have felt different if there were no fans in the stands? I don’t think so. As long as TV broadcasts pump in crowd noise, I’ll personally be satisfied. The playoffs on the other hand, might be a little different as fan reactions and loud cheers certainly embody your typical “playoff atmosphere.” We’ll just have to wait and see.
Allred: They should be able to figure out how to mic up and/or pipe in real chatter and cheering from the smaller amount of in-bubble attendees and fans viewing from home. Broadcasts already do that: it’s not like you could feel the decibels through your TV during a playoff game; the production team mixed the on- and off-court audio to make it sound as loud and exciting as possible. Even if it looks and feels a little less raucous, I actually think a smaller and more intimate presentation of the basketball action happening could be beautiful and informative for fans who might not be as simple-minded as the old approach suggested.
Napier: Will it satisfy us? Yes. Will it feel full and complete? No. The most memorable moments for me as a sports fan are the moments with special fan reactions. That time Thunder fans chanted “Russ-ell” when he was having a rough night… every Thunder fan standing and cheering for the team after they were eliminated in the 2010 playoffs by the Lakers … the deafening roar when Westbrook dropped in that miraculous flip shot … the faces of shock from the fans in Denver when Westbrook hit the game-winner against the Nuggets on the same night he notched his 42nd triple-double.
Davis: I’d expect the first couple weeks of action to be bad, both from a basketball perspective and on the broadcast. But after that, the kinks should be worked out enough for us to enjoy what’s happening on the court without worrying about who isn’t in the stands.
The NBA is considering some radical modifications to the calendar and format for this season and next. What’s your favorite crazy change you’d like to see tried out?
Flaim: Let’s try changing the rules for 3-point shooting fouls. Until the final two minutes of a game, only two free throws are granted for a three-point foul. Why? As John Hollinger broke down for the Athletic, the expected value on a free throw is give or take .75-.8 points at least for a decent 3-point shooter. So the expected value on a shot where a foul takes place jumps from around 1.2 to about 2.4, which is a drastically large penalty especially when players may embellish contact to draw fouls. A system of two shots still gives a good penalty (jumping from 1.2 to 1.6 points expected). Keeping the traditional rule late in games would prevent teams from fouling guys in a shooting motion on purpose or tackling them to prevent a game-tying three.
Mcewen: Among all the scenarios thrown around, I just love the idea of moving the season start date to December (Christmas perhaps) and letting basketball stretch into the summer. Basketball is definitely a summer sport and fall wouldn’t be without basketball if you transform Summer League into a fall activity. Playoffs and the Fourth of July sounds like a delightful combination to me.
Kayanja: I agree with Alex. The NBA calendar as it stands makes no sense. They need to stop trying to compete with football in the fall. More times than not the NFL is owning every Thursday, Sunday, and Monday anyway. Give that up. Allow football to rule the fall, and then shorten the NBA schedule to something between 60-70 games. Then the league starts on Christmas or New Year’s Day. Those tend to be big basketball days anyway. Have the playoffs kick off in late June or early July. The NBA can own that summer window where there are no sports, aside from baseball. From there they can have the finals in mid-August, with an offseason running from late August to November. Perfect.
Davis: I’d also love live sports over the summer and, as a non-baseball fan, having the NBA stretch out further would scratch that itch. My competitive idea: shorten the playoff field to six teams in each conference. Top four teams are automatically in the field, and then you have a play-in tournament for the final two seeds in each conference. Top two seeds in each conference get a BYE. This would make “load management” pretty close to impossible — getting a top-two seed becomes incredibly important and not falling out of the top four is imperative for a true contender.
I’d also add moving the draft to after the start of free agency. Draft picks could then be traded after the start of the league year when cap figures reset and teams know what they’ve done with their money. Instead of a team trading for a star player and having to draft a player and do the weird “give the rookie the hat of a team that’s going to trade him in ten minutes” routine we could cut to the chase as teams would know who they want to take with the pick they’re getting. There are a bunch of nice benefits to it and I’d be fine with that as well.
Elrod: I’d like to see the NBA make the first two opening rounds of the playoffs be best of five games, and then have the conference and NBA Finals be best of seven.
Allred: Whatever pool play or exhibition-style format they use ahead of the playoffs (if any), I want to try all of the fun stuff they’d normally reserve for the G League to test. Elam endings, no offensive basket interference, adjust block/charge (more dunks and stuffs incentivized), expedite and expand replay “in the booth” instead of on the court, and maybe a five-point-shot circle from full court while we’re at it. For the calendar, I agree with Spenser. If the draft were moved to after free agency, teams would have more certainty about their roster when it comes time to actually select prospects, and fans would likely get more trades during the signing window when teams are moving heaven and earth to open cap space and pair player acquisitions.
Johnson: 1-16 playoff seeding would be something that I’d like to see, although that would mean OKC would play Miami in the first round, which is not a great matchup for the Thunder.
Napier: Play-in, single-elimination tournament for the 8 seed.
Panchal: I’m with John. It would be incredible to have a single-elimination tournament for this season’s eighth seed especially since we didn’t get March Madness. As far as next season goes, I have always thought that we could do without pre-season and have fewer games in the regular season.
Rahbar: Let’s start the NBA season the day after the Super Bowl every year, start the NFL season the day after the NBA Finals every year, and take the MLB season and kick it into the trash can every year.