1. All-Star 1v1 Tournament FAQ
In the recent Ballers roundtable, I revealed my plan to fix the NBA All-Star weekend: a one-on-one single-elimination tournament inspired by the old WWE King of the Ring PPV. Someone asked how exactly it would work, and I shall gladly oblige.
Before going through the details, here’s whya 1v1 tournament would absolutely work: every fan dreams of watching the best players in the world go mano a mano. Who’s better, Nikola Jokic or Joel Embiid? Kevin Durant or Giannis Antetokounmpo? No need to listen to annoying talking heads shout at each other on TV when it can be settled definitively on the court.
It’s so obvious that it’s perplexing why the NBA hasn’t experimented with it before. One of the earliest successful sports video games was One on One: Dr. J vs. Larry Bird, which put publisher Electronic Arts on the map. The 1v1 mode has been a staple in NBA-licensed video games since EA’s NBA Live 2000. The beauty of a 1v1 game is its simplicity. It’s something that any fan can just tune into and appreciate, unlike the skills competition—which is fast becoming a reincarnation of the ill-fated 2-ball contest.
A tournament format also has mass appeal. March Madness and the tennis Grand Slams are among the most watched sporting events every year. Dodgeball, Bloodsport, and The Quick and The Dead are cult classics that span different genres. The tournament arc is a staple in popular animes (Yu Yu Hakusho‘s Dark Tournament is probably the most well known among 90’s kids). Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire was framed by the Triwizard Tournament. Even Glee had Show Choir Tournaments every season.
Now here are the basic 1v1 rules:
• A player will shoot for the ball at the start of each game (“miss”)
• Each game will be to 9 points with a 4-minute time limit.
• Baskets count for either one point (inside the three-point arc) or two points (outside the three-point arc).
• 12-second shot-clock.
• Play keeps, i.e., offensive player keeps the ball after a made basket.
• Rebounds must be cleared behind the three-point line.
• Basket counts in case of a shooting foul; check ball at the top of the three-point line if missed. No and-1.
• Alternating possession arrow for held balls.
Anyone who has played basketball growing up is familiar with most of the rules—I didn’t invent them—so let’s move on to my brainchild, the tournament proper:
• The Selection: Who gets to participate in the 1v1 tourney? I believe that fan voting is important, but understand the need to guard against a Zaza Pachulia situation (Andrew Wiggins in a 1v1 wouldn’t be too bad). So here’s my proposal: have the Inside the NBA guys nominate 15 players whose names will appear on the ballot (note: this can work for the dunk and three-point contests too). It’s not perfect—I mean, they botched some of the picks in the Ultimate Draft—but it’s more entertaining than the alternatives.
The fans would then choose eight players from the 15-man ballot, with an option to write in one player as a wild card just in case the Inside the NBA crew messes up so badly (pretty sure there would be no Zaza anomaly with the write-in because once upon a time there was a write-in option in the All-Star ballot and nobody ever made the All-Star team as a write-in player).
• The Format: The bracket will be drawn on the same broadcast as the All-Star captains draft their teams. Since there are eight players, the tournament would consist of three rounds. Single-elimination, losers go home. To manage the players’ workload, the tourney would be split over two days. The first round and semis will be held on Friday, and the finals will headline Saturday night.
• The Prize: Whatever is enough to get the best players to participate. In the All-Star Game, each quarter is worth $100,000 to the winning team’s charity, so perhaps at least the same amount to the charity of the winner’s choice. Ultimately, it’s all about bragging rights—whoever wins can make a credible claim that he’s the best player on the planet. Throw in a wrestling-inspired championship belt in lieu of a generic trophy (I personally prefer something like the old WCW Big Gold Belt) and I guarantee that it will be the coolest show on earth.
To complete the atmosphere, you can also have a famous wrestler introduce the finalists, like Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson did at Super Bowl LVI. But since the All-Star Weekend’s celebrity guest list is a poor man’s version of the Super Bowl, maybe they can start with the “Road Dogg” Jesse James.
The main problem I see is that some players might be unwilling to participate. LeBron James infamously never joined the dunk contest (despite saying this in 2009), and he’ll most definitely beg off a 1v1 event too. My solution? Declining participation should also result in the forfeiture of the player’s slot in the Sunday game. Majority of the contestants have presumably been named All-Stars too, so if they refuse to take part in the 1v1 tournament, then they shouldn’t bother making the trip to the ASG host city. Too harsh? Maybe, but I need my tournament to work! Nobody wants to see a final between Obi Toppin and Juan Toscano-Anderson just because everyone else begged off.
Just imagine Embiid winning the inaugural tournament and going full Stone Cold on us with his African accent…
2. Any man who must say ‘I am the king’ is no true king
LeBron James sat down with Kenny Smith last week and doubled down on his claim that he is the greatest basketball player who ever lived. I disagree and it’s cringe-inducing that he keeps repeating it publicly. (You can read my reasons why he isn’t the GOAT here; I wrote it over 3 years ago, but apart from LeBron’s Mickey Mouse ring, not much has changed on where the “debate” stands).
LeBron makes it incredibly hard for us to just appreciate his greatness because of the way he manifests his insecurity. That’s why watching this felt particularly good:
In Cleveland, folks.
3. No more All-Star Games for Spo, please
Two weeks ago, I wrote that Erik Spoelstra did not deserve to be named as one of the 15 greatest coaches in NBA history. Now I don’t want him ever coaching an All-Star Game again.
He didn’t play his starters enough minutes apart from Embiid. Ja Morant and Andrew Wiggins barely saw action while replacements Dejounte Murray and Lonzo Ball soaked up the minutes, including the entire 4th quarter. There’s a reason why fans vote for the starters: they want to see them on the floor!
Then there’s the missed opportunity to play the grown-up Timberpups together even for a brief stretch. Can’t even pay homage to the late Flip Saunders like that, huh?
At least he wouldn’t be coaching at the ASG next year.
I mentioned before that there are only three sports people that I mind-meld with: Bill Simmons, Charles Barkley, and Michelle Beadle. I enjoy reading Zach Lowe, but he sometimes gets too technical for me. As much as I’d like to count him as a mind-meld, it’s almost impossible for me to reach his level of detail—it’s like he’s teaching theoretical physics while I’m doing liberal arts. But there are occasions when it does happen, and the point he made about the MVP race in his recent article on ESPN was one of those moments:
“Do not act as if the winner should obviously be Joel Embiid, and that anyone who dares disagree is a dunce. You can make reasonable cases for Embiid, Jokic, Giannis Antetokounmpo, maybe a few others. I might end up voting for Embiid.
“Current playoff seedings do not constitute a standalone case for Embiid. Yes, the Sixers are No. 3 in the East, and Denver is No. 6 in the West. 1.5 games separate them. The Nuggets have a better point differential. The Sixers have gotten zero from Ben Simmons; the Nuggets have gotten zero from Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr.
“Peel back one layer, and you’ll realize there is — to this point — no qualitative difference between Denver and Philly. If there is one at the end of the season — if the gap between their records fattens — let’s discuss that then.”
Last week, I thought Tracy McGrady might be a mind-meld candidate too, after he called out James Harden for faking his hamstring injury. But then T-Mac claimed this week that he should have been named the 2003 MVP instead of Tim Duncan. His reasoning is that the Spurs would’ve still made the playoffs without Duncan because they were “that great.”
That’s an awful take. Duncan in fact had one of his weakest supporting casts in 2003. David Robinson already had one foot on retirement. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili were still just getting their feet wet and nowhere close to being all-stars. Shaquille O’Neal correctly shut him down… but, no, I’ll never mind-meld with Shaq; we just happened to share the same opinion.
5. Throwback video of the week
Here’s a little-known fact: after getting his ass handed to him in the 1995 NBA Finals, Shaq challenged Hakeem Olajuwon to a one-on-one match in the summer of ’95. Donald Trump promoted the PPV match, dubbed as “War on the Floor,” at his Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, with a $1 million prize sponsored by Taco Bell.
Unfortunately, Olajuwon backed out at the last minute because of a back injury. You can learn more about the scrapped battle of titans in this piece by NBC’s Tom Haberstroh.