Basketball is exciting when you can relate to the players. When everybody is eight feet tall and jumps another four, that's not basketball; it's a circus. Here is how to solve the NBA's problems: 1) Decommission the NBDL. 2) Add gypsy teams that have no home arena, four in each conference. 3) The best gypsy team plays the eighth-seeded regular team for a chance at a Cinderella spot in the playoffs. 4) The best gypsy team earns the coming arena in Europe. 5) Expand the NBA's nationwide 3-on-3 tournament to 5-on-5, letting regular guys compete for the spot of the worst gypsy team in the league. David Stern, it is time to bring basketball back to the people.

Commissioner Stern, Tear Down This Wall

Philip Maymin
Basketball News Services  

I believe that my two brothers, my dad, me, and just one other guy can take on the Lakers starting five. You may torture me to the brink of death, but I will yell this with my last gasp. We may not be able to beat them repeatedly, but in a game to eleven, especially the first game when they underestimate us, if we watch enough video beforehand and practice hard enough, I think we could take them. Even on their home court.

Fantasy - that's the attraction of basketball. Yes, they are all bigger and stronger and faster than any of us, but I've beaten bigger stronger faster people before, and I've lost to smaller weaker slower people. It's a factor but it's not the only one.

Basketball is exciting when it's the people's game, when you can relate to the players. When everybody is eight feet tall, or can grab quarters from the top of the backboard and leave a handwritten receipt, you're not watching basketball anymore; you're watching a circus. Even Space Jam, a wonderful movie, had for the most part terrible basketball scenes, because the players were superhuman aliens. The only reason the climactic Michael Jordan dunk worked was because it was his first time using his super cartoon powers. After that, there would be no more interest in seeing the game continue at all. It's a good thing that was the final play.

But go to a corporate "C" league basketball game or watch two teenagers play one-on-one. The intensity and pressure and drama is there immediately, and though the skill level is negligible compared with the Kevin Garnetts or Tracy McGradys of the world, it is far more relevant. As the players become less human and more superhero, the struggle does not become mightier. Instead, it becomes less meaningful.

To be sure, no one will pay to watch a "C" league basketball game or two exhausted teenagers playing one last round. People pay to see the best, of course, so long as the best are at least remotely human. That is why it has been so important for the NBA to market the athletes as people, so we, as fans, could relate to them and cheer for them.

How does the NBDL fit into this? It is the professional equivalent of the corporate "C" league. It is players with passion and hustle and pride, but lacking the super talent to be instant superstars. No one but close friends and family would pay to watch them play, and even those people would expect free tickets.

The NBDL is no different from any other basketball league not named the NBA. It's a regional collection of teams, each having a home arena and a home base of fans, that play half their games at home and half on the road. This is the wrong approach for the NBA, a league that prides itself, and rightly so, on being on the cutting-edge of professional sports leagues, and on thinking outside the box.

The right approach is to have gypsy teams. Home arenas are outdated. Fans come to watch good games, not just local games. When Lebron James is in town, even if that town is Atlanta, there will be fans in the seats. They are not coming to see Shareef Abdur-Rahim play, good as he is. They are coming to see the show. When the Washington Wizards or Milwaukee Bucks visit Atlanta, most fans stay home, no matter how much they love their home team. It's just not an interesting game.

Imagine, however, if the Atlanta arena hosted a game between the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Denver Nuggets. Not a single Hawk in the building, but it would be packed. Why? Because the fans want to see a good game. They are fans above all of the sport of basketball, and only secondly of their particular team. Give them a good product and they'll show up every time. Give them a bad local product and they'll show up only when the opponents are worth their time.

Gypsy teams can travel all across their respective conference, playing all 82 of their games on the road, never having a place to call home. Their entire season, from exhibition to playoffs, is one long road trip. Is it a disadvantage? Absolutely. Is it insurmountable? Of course not.

Professional basketball players are on the road half the year anyway. What's an extra half, really? Planes, trains, and ferries are fast enough to get the players home to their families wherever they might live, and if they get traded to another gypsy team in the same conference, they don't even need to relocate their families.

Start with baby steps. Add four gypsy teams to each conference. Each gypsy team faces other regular tams in their conference 20 times, and faces other gypsy teams 62 times. As far as the regular NBA teams are concerned, they only need to schedule a total of 80 games against gypsy teams; it's as if there is only one additional team in their conference, not four. From the perspective of each of the gypsy teams, however, they each play a full regular season.

Whichever gypsy team, in each conference, has the best record gets to face off with the eighth-seeded regular NBA team. This series must be fair to the regular team; in other words, it can't be so short that randomness will cause the regular team to lose more than it should (imagine if it's just one game with one minute quarters, where virtually anything can happen). It also can't be so long that it will cause the winning team to be exhausted in later rounds (imagine if it's a 21-game series). Before the NBA really equaled out the talent of the league, a five game series used to be considered an acceptable length for matching up the top-ranked team with the eighth-ranked team in the playoffs. It should probably be enough for a regular team, with home court advantage throughout the series, to play a gypsy team.

However, if the first one or two games are extraordinary blowouts, if the games aren't even competitive, there is no reason the regular team should be forced to continue playing. Perhaps a margin of victory total would help as well; if at any point one of the teams is undefeated in the series and has outscored the opposition by 100 cumulative points, that team is declared the winner, and no further games are played.

In such a way, any gypsy team could get a Cinderella berth into the playoffs, and if they believe in themselves enough, and if they studied enough video and practiced together enough as a team, they could conceivably be that year's NBA champions.

Isn't that wonderful? Isn't that the epitome of the great equalizer that is basketball? Wouldn't that fulfill Dr. Naismith's finest vision?

Over the next five years, these gypsy teams will evolve in talent and success. The reward for their success will be a home court, the first home court in Europe. The NBA has decided that it will expand to Europe, regardless of the obstacles. When they do, it would be only fitting to allow one of the gypsy teams to find a home there. If there were to be only one dominant team over the next five years, it would be an easy decision who to send. If there were to be much changing in talent and dominance, it would be a more difficult decision, and could require some final playoff-style competitions.

Who wouldn't pay to see that? A battle for a home, and glorious recognition, by two or more of the best gypsy teams in the league. That could draw more viewers than the Finals, because the players are playing for something tangible; they are playing for their lives, for their honor, and for their very homes.

Gypsy teams could continue to flood the NBA as it expands further into Europe and Asia. It is a concept that would allow the league the ultimate flexibility in scheduling, while increasing television ratings (underdogs always make for good stories), and would free the league to let the gypsy teams develop players at their own pace, yet with at least some competition against the world's greatest players. Athletes would get traded from regular to gypsy teams and back with great regularity, or with at least the same level of regularity that we see today.

The fans would love it because they have more stories and more games. The athletes would love it because more of them could play in the national spotlight. The league ought to love it too, as it enhances the product that they are selling. There is a wall now between the players in the NBA and those that are not, a wall that doesn't measure heart or talent or dedication or skill, but merely the limitation of the home-court system. Commissioner Stern, I beg you to tear down this wall. Let all of us participate in the game of basketball.

If we want to expand this system to its logical conclusion, here is what we get. You form a team of free agents (we are all of us free agents if we're not under contract to another NBA team). You play in an ever increasing talent level of competition, similar to the NBA's nation-wide 3-on-3 tournament. The best squad gets to play some kind of series (perhaps the same rules as the gypsy team's Cinderalla playoff possibility) with last year's worst gypsy team. If you beat them, you get their spot in the NBA.

Among other things, this would make scouting a lot more efficient. All the best players would participate in what would eventually grow to be a global tournament to become NBA champions. Whoever can assemble the best rag-tag group of players, couple them with a good couch and trainer, can at least in theory go all the way.

That would mean that my dream could finally come true. Me, my two bros, and my dad are looking for the fifth and final member of our cabal, so let me know if you are available. We can do this thing. Yes, it's unlikely, but it's not impossible, if you think about it. Every shot I have seen on TV, I have practiced, and at least sometimes made. There is no way anybody in the NBA can prevent me from taking an off-balance, hail-Mary, prayer of a shot, not even Ron Artest, not even Shaquille O'Neal. But sometimes prayers are answered, and the unthinkable happens. It could look ugly, but it could also go in. And if we're playing to eleven by ones and twos, it could go in just six times from beyond the arc to earn us a victory, even if it is by chance.

Then one day we would receive the championship rings from the Commissioner of the NBA.

Even if we never do, even if we are blown out of the first round of the nationwide tournament, even if we just forget to sign up for the tournament altogether, I would watch all NBA games with more interest, and I would attend more games more frequently, because I'll know that there was a chance. It was small, and it was unlikely, but it was mine. There was a chance that we could have done it too.

And as I watch the games with my fellow teammates, my family, I will smile to myself, and look over and see them smiling too, and I'll know we'll all be thinking the same thing: we'll get 'em next year.