Illustration by Chris Morris |

Super Fan sections and King of the Hill? Bold ideas to re-invent NBA for 2020s

The NBA's willingness to adapt separates it from most sports leagues. Whether it’s tinkering with the rule book or season format or forcing a lame, longtime owner to sell his franchise, the league takes pride in being at the forefront of change. 

The downside to the NBA's approach, however, is that everyone — owners, coaches, players, fans — wants the league to continue tinkering until it has reached an apex of universal approval. It’s a Sisyphean task, for sure. But if there’s any commissioner who could guide that boulder up the hill of sports-league perfection, it’s the great Adam Silver.

So get busy, commish, because here are 20 bold ideas your league must adopt faster than James Harden shies away from playing defense in the first half of a February game in Cleveland. Check that: faster than The Beard shies away from playing defense anytime.

82 games? Bleh! Let's make the season ...

... 72 games!

Reading load-management stories is a form of torture, like following Skip Bayless’ Twitter account whenever LeBron plays. STOP. THE. INSANITY. Slash 10 games off the 82-game regular season. In a 72-game season, teams would play in-conference opponents three times and out-of-conference teams twice. No more back-to-backs. Good riddance, load-management/Kawhi Leonard “Is he hurt or injured?” stories! Hello, importance of regular-season games! 

Let's determine the real 'King'

At the All-Star Game, let's have a King of the Hill style one-on-one tournament. 10 players. Two baskets. It continues until one player from each hoop scores seven baskets. Winners of each basket play a one-on-one game to 11. Winner of each basket gets $500,000. Winner of final gets $1.5 million. The two finalists can also choose to wager up to an additional $500,000, and the NBA will match that amount in a donation to that player’s charity. Thus, the winner can walk away with up to $2 million, plus $500,000 to his charity. Second place catches a lot of heat on social media, and either wins $500,000 or has $500,000 go to charity.

Make Twitter go absolutely insane

Make first round of the playoffs best-of-five again. That format adds a little more chaos to the playoffs and a little more excitement to the first round. The better team is almost always going to win a best-of-seven series. But a best-of-five series? An underdog could get hot in a game or two early in the series and produce some highly entertaining elimination games and epic upsets. Imagine what Twitter would be like if the Lakers got behind in a best-of-five series in the first round.

Remember Bill Simmons’ Entertaining-as-Hell Tournament proposal from the mid-2000s?

Here's my spin on it: top seven teams in each conference make the playoffs. Then there would be two single-elimination tournaments (one East, one West) for the eighth seed in each conference. The eighth-place team would play the 15th-place team; the ninth-place would play the 14th-place team and so on. It's like college basketball’s play-in round of the NCAA Tournament on steroids. And with the success of the Elam Ending in the All-Star Game, all games would be 36 minutes (three 12-minute periods), and then a target score would be determined by adding 24 points to the team with the higher score; the first team to the target score wins.

James Harden won't be pleased, but his flopping must go. Kyle Terada | USA TODAY Sports

Let's stop those flopping frauds ...  

The NBA fines players for flops once in a blue moon. Enough of that! Are you listening, Draymond Green? Every time Harden jerks his head back violently on a drive or flails on a three-point attempt despite not being fouled, hit him with a retroactive technical after the game. It won’t impact that specific game, but it’ll count toward his technical foul points that lead to a suspension after 16. Bet flopping is completely out of the game then. It’ll be a decade too late because my rule should have been installed the second Manu Ginobili brought this nonsense to the league.

... and ban b****ing at refs

Speaking of which, let’s start doing the same any time a player gives the “Who? Me?” reaction (aka “the Andre Iguodala”) or curses out a ref on an obvious foul call. Don’t T up players during the game, and then force the refs to decide whether the reaction constitutes a tech — retroactively assess the player with a tech, and watch the referee b****ing slowly leave the game.

And speaking of charges ...

Ask yourself: Has any good ever come from a charge call in a game of basketball? Charges encourage a player to slide in front of another player just as that player is jumping as high as he can to attempt to score. This causes a ton of injuries. Charges also encourage flopping and referee tricking. Charges force refs to make bang-bang block/charge calls, which are easily the most often missed calls in the game. You can still have player-control fouls on the offense and abolish charges. If a player is careening to the basket out of control, lowering his shoulder into defenders or initiating excessive contact with a defender, a ref can still whistle him for a player-control foul. The game doesn’t need the charge call.

The Knicks will screw this up, but ...

.... it would be great for the 29 other teams. Put free agency BEFORE the draft. With all the free agent movement, it would allow teams that missed out on big free agents to swing for the fences in the draft; it would also allow teams that landed big free agents to trade their picks or draft more NBA-ready players. This would be a more natural transition as the focus would remain on NBA players immediately after the season and then move to future NBA players a few weeks later. Would the Knicks have been willing to move heaven and earth to trade up for a kid such as Ja Morant if they had already whiffed in free agency? Hmm ... probably need to ponder that one for a few months.

The best of the best fans merit a place of their own. Russell Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Designated Super Fans section

In the age of the secondary ticket market, teams often lose much of their home-court advantage with a road team’s fans buying up tickets. To combat this, teams could have a “super fans” section, like European soccer clubs' “ultras” section and college sports’ student sections. Teams could have a lottery for the seats and have certain qualifications to ensure that tickets aren’t resold and that fans are as rowdy as possible. The seats could be subsidized to bring a more representative fan of that city to the game (ask Warriors players whether they’d rather have fans from Oakland or San Francisco cheering them on). Super fans must create unique songs or chants that bring a little extra excitement to lackluster games in February and March. In the Knicks' case, they must boo and chant, “SELL THE TEAM” Oh, wait, they already do that.

Copy soccer. (Wait ... what?)

Borrowing a concept from Major League Soccer (aka the David Beckham Rule), institute a salary-cap rule allowing a player who has accrued at least seven full seasons with the same franchise to re-sign with that team for an uncapped amount. The kicker: The salary would count only as a max-contract slot. So when Giannis Antetokounmpo comes up for an extension this summer, the Bucks should be able to offer him a five-year, $500 million contract. (He’s worth at least that to the franchise.) The salary would count only as a regular max contract for salary-cap purposes.

Copy the NHL. (Are you insane?!) 


Borrowing the penalty-advantage concept from the NHL, the NBA should allow fast breaks to continue when an offensive team has a clear advantage in the open court and a defensive player just grabs the player with the ball, taking a foul to prevent the fast break. These fouls (brought over by European players along with the flop) are a loophole in the rule book and ruin opportunities for awesome highlight plays. Just have the ref put his arm up and let play continue for, say, five seconds to give the offense a chance to score. If it does score, it’s no foul and play continues. If not, it’s sideline-out-of-bounds.

Let the kids cash in 

In addition to probably being a violation of an 18-year-old’s right to work, the one-and-done rule has turned college basketball into a purgatory between amateur and professional sports, and the Australian and Chinese Leagues into poor feeder-systems for the NBA. As Jonathan Abrams pointed out in his "Boys Among Men" book that analyzed every high school player to enter the NBA Draft, NBA players who jumped straight from high school to the league had, on average, better careers and made more money than any other type of prospect. And that was before the NBA put any effort toward helping kids better acclimate from high school life to the NBA. Now it can use the G League for the Lenny Cookes of the world who ignore everyone and enter the draft before they’re ready.

Finally! An NBA Finals at basketball's mecca

If the Finals go to a Game 7, play the game at a historic basketball site such as Phog Allen Fieldhouse, Cameron Indoor Arena or even Madison Square Garden. (The Knicks have no use for the Garden in the playoffs anyway.) And while we’re incorporating a college hoops feel to the Finals, let's have Dickie V and Gus Johnson do the radio or ESPN2 broadcast and just see what happens! And while we’re on the topic of broadcast teams, no matter who owns the rights to the NBA Finals, ban Marv Albert (why is he still doing games?), Reggie Miller (he might know less about hoops than any NBA player in history) and Chris Webber (bad commentator) from ever doing a Finals game.

Best Player on the Planet Belt

After the playoffs, a Best Player on the Planet Belt should be awarded to the player who performs best when the games are most important. MVP voters can continue to reward the cutest MVP narrative (look everyone -– triple-doubles!) and unabashed stat padding in the regular season because they’re bored voting for the actual best player in the league. (How did MJ have only five MVPs? How does LeBron have only four?) Voting for the Best Player on the Planet after the dust of the Finals has settled would help future basketball historians understand just how dominant players such as Jordan and James were/is — especially when compared to inferior players with similarly great stats (Karl Malone or Harden). It would also prevent future hoops historians from thinking clowns such as Bayless and Rob Parker were trusted voices of reason if they happen to unearth some old "First Take" tapes. 

Expand ... but maybe not what you're thinking

The length and width of a basketball court have been the same since the days of George Mikan in an era when players were about as athletic as Darren Rovell running a 40-yard dash. With the passing of each decade, basketball players have gotten bigger, faster and stronger, yet the dimensions of the court haven’t changed one bit. Widening the court by two feet on each side so that the dimensions are 94’ x 54’ would give players more room to operate and encourage more ball movement. It would also allow the league to address another aspect that is beginning to become an issue: overreliance on three-pointers.

Make Kobe 'The Logo'

It would be poetic for the NBA to change the logo from Jerry West's figure to Bryant’s silhouette in honor of the Mamba. West traded up in the 1996 NBA Draft to select Bryant after witnessing his legendary workout. What’s more, West thought of Kobe as another son and played an important part in helping to mold the Lakers great. West is good with it, so who better to pass the honor on to than Kobe Bean Bryant? 

Madrid, Paris, London or Detroit? Hmm, where would you rather play hoops? Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Conquer Europe

The league expanded to 30 teams in 1995, and with the globalization of basketball, it absolutely has enough talent to expand to 32 teams. Hell, there’s enough talent for 34 or 36 teams if we’re using the late 1990s and early 2000s as our standard. There’s easily enough interest in cities such as Seattle, Las Vegas and Louisville to add two more teams. But let's think REALLY big. Put a team in Europe — with the team rotating in three cities: Madrid, London and Paris. Sure, that team will struggle with a rotating home and long travel for away games, but ask players if they’d rather do that or have their home in Detroit, Cleveland or Minneapolis? (If there were 32 teams, we'd go with a 75-game schedule.)

Really deep thoughts

The game is getting a little out of whack with three-pointers. If you told me the Rockets attempted 90 threes in a game, I wouldn’t even blink. Let’s make the mid-range and post-up aspect of basketball important again and get teams playing their own unique styles again instead of every team trying to shoot nothing but layups and threes. So let's move the three-point line back by a foot in corners (to 23 feet) and a foot-and-three-quarters up the top of the key (to 25.5 feet). This incremental change shouldn’t impact good three-point shooters, but it’ll discourage the players currently shooting around 30 percent from hoisting as many threes.

It's about time

No games after 10 p.m. The NBA made more of an effort to start some of its West Coast games earlier in the night, so why not take it a step further and eliminate 10:30 p.m. starts altogether? Almost every West Coast game should be wrapped up by midnight on the East Coast. Think that might help slumping TV ratings? Sure, West Coasters might have trouble getting back from work before tip-off some nights, but do they really get a California sunset AND ample time before games start?

Embrace the gods of technology!

  • Put a microchip in the basketball that can alert refs when the ball was released/wasn’t released before the buzzer — the more the league can do to take decision-making out of Tony Brothers’ and Scott Foster’s hands, the better. 
  • Offer Clippers’ CourtVision to fans watching games on TV and in the nosebleeds.
  • Partner with DraftKings and other live betting sites to allow fans to gamble on the game right in front of them.
  • Put up virtual reality stations in the arena where fans can step in and watch the live game from an on-court perspective to give them a better appreciation of the speed of the game.

Somebody stop this man from dissing "The King." Christopher Capozziello/For The Washington Post via Getty Images

BONUS! The ultimate technological innovation 

A device must be created to make a certain talking head --- hint: he averaged 1.4 points per game in high school -- stop criticizing LeBron. Enough of the "clutch gene" schtick, Skippy!

Pat Heery began his sports writing career in 2016 for The Has Been Sports Blog. He practices real estate law during the day and runs pick & rolls at night. Follow him on Twitter: @pheery12

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