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Tuesday April 13, 2010 2:41 AM

Introducing The Think Tank


Shane Battier's plans for a bigger and better NBA

Jason Friedman
Rockets.com Staff Writer

HOUSTON - Defensive ace, team leader, karaoke star – Shane Battier is a man of many talents. Yet whether he’s learning how to lock his man down or rocking the microphone, one thing remains constant: his mind never stops contemplating ways to make the NBA even bigger and better than it already is.

For that reason – and, let’s face it, quite a few others – many have pegged Battier as a future candidate for NBA commissioner. But the Rockets forward says he’s not interested in David Stern’s position; he’d much rather serve as a one-man think tank, brainstorming ideas and creative solutions in order to generate more excitement and foster growth among the league’s global fan base.

So with that in mind, Rockets.com’s Jason Friedman sat down with Shane to pick his brain and discuss some of the ideas he’d love to see implemented. What follows is a transcript of their conversation.

JCF: Let’s start by talking about an idea you threw out there a while ago; one that sort of flew under the radar a bit but I think presents an awesome opportunity for the NBA and its fans. Let’s talk King’s Cup.

SB: As an NBA fan, I’m always thinking of ways to improve the game because I think it’s the best game in the world featuring the most skilled athletes in the entire world. I think there are ways to generate even more excitement. Because in this digital age, whether we like it or not, the public is changing their tastes and you have to keep up with the times and sort of reinvent yourself to keep eyeballs on the game.

There are a couple things you can do to enhance the NBA experience. One of my ideas comes from a conversation with Luis Scola, who played in Spain for many years. Every year, instead of having an All-Star game, around midseason they would have the Spanish League’s King’s Cup, where the top-8 teams would come to a city in Spain. Their fans would travel and they’d have a 3-day single elimination tournament. It’s a very prestigious event, almost as prestigious as winning the Spanish League itself. It has tradition behind it and the teams really play hard when playing for the honor to be named King’s Cup champion.

I think it’s a wild idea to enhance the All-Star weekend but I think it would be a boon for the NBA and would create unbelievable excitement for basketball in this country. Just look at the NCAA tournament; America loves single elimination tournaments. It’s do or die, win or go home and they love the Cinderella. They love when the team that’s counted out wins. They love to see the powerhouses fall. That’s why the NCAA tournament is so great.

My idea for the NBA Cup – we’ll call it the Stern Cup for our purposes right now – is at the All-Star break you go to a football stadium anywhere in the country, set up a basketball court and you invite the top-8 teams regardless of conference to the Stern Cup. So you have the best eight teams in the NBA at that point in the season and you play a single elimination tournament.

You have 4 games on Thursday and the semi-finals on Friday. On Saturday you can have the dunk contest, 3-point shoot-out and all the events they have now and then on Sunday you have the Stern Cup championship. If you want to change up the order and have the dunk contest between games to create excitement, I think that’s a great idea, too. You can have the rookie-sophomore game scattered in there somewhere as well.

Can you imagine a Friday semi-final where Carmelo Anthony would play LeBron James in one game and Kobe Bryant is playing Dwight Howard in the other one? In back-to-back games at the same location?

You’re playing for something. It’s not just a regular game on ABC or FSN. You’re playing for a championship. I think it could be an incredible event that creates a lot of revenue and a lot of interest in the game.

JCF: So would this take the place of the All-Star game?

SB: Yes, I would replace it. People want to see the stars compete and the All-Star game, for as great as it used to be in the 80s and 90s, it’s lost some of its luster. I think you have to reintroduce some sort of competitive element back into All-Star weekend to regain some of the prestige that it once had.

You could even shorten the games to have two halves of 20 minutes each. I understand that the criticism would be that there’s going to be wear and tear, and the potential for injuries. Well guess what: we’re making some pretty good money with this event and we should have some interest in growing the game. I don’t think anyone would complain if you took away three games from each team’s exhibition schedule before the season in order to be able to hold an event like the Stern Cup.

JCF: Alright, well as long as we’re on the subject of making the league even bigger and better, what else have you got?

SB: I also like the idea that Bill Simmons came up with, where instead of the 1 through 8 playoff seeds being determined by record, I think we should only guarantee the top-6 spots in each conference. For the 7th and 8th spots, I think we could have another single elimination tournament – this time including only the non-playoff teams. The teams in the 7th and 8th spots can have byes to give them an advantage but this would give fans of the teams that aren’t in the playoffs something to really grab onto and give them something to cheer for. And it would discourage teams and players from, let’s say, starting their summer vacation early.

I think, again, this would create tremendous excitement for the league and it can only be a positive.

JCF: Speaking of those 7 and 8 seeds, you’re not a big fan of the first round of the NBA playoffs being best-of-7 affairs, are you? You’d rather see the little guy have more of a sporting chance, right?

SB: Changing the format back to best-of-5 creates more excitement and it gives the underdog, the lower seed, a better chance to win. There’s no question about it, it’s difficult for an 8-seed to beat a 1-seed in a 7-game series. I’m sure Daryl Morey can come up with some stat which gives you the exact odds of that happening.

I’ll never forget watching the Denver Nuggets beat the Seattle Supersonics (in the ’94 playoffs). That was tremendous basketball and I just don’t think that’s going to happen much at all in a 7-game series. You have to give, I believe, your fans a little more hope than they currently have in a 7-game series where the 8-seed faces the 1-seed.

The criticism from the first four seeds is that it’s not fair to them. Well, you know what? If you’re better, go out and prove it.

JCF: Fair, but some would say that the beautiful thing about the NBA is that the cream almost always rises to the top, ensuring that the best teams in the league end up winning out and moving on.

SB: Look, I want to see the best teams perform under pressure. That’s what makes sport what it is: people performing at the highest level with consequence on the line. That’s what makes LeBron James and Kobe so special: they deliver when the game is on the line. So if we create a more pressure-filled scenario like a best-of-5 first round series or a single elimination tournament like the Stern Cup, we see what an athlete’s made of. And that’s the beauty of sports.

JCF: You’re also a proponent of shortening the regular season as well, correct?

SB: There are too many throw away games in the NBA regular season. For anyone who’s gone through an NBA season, they know it’s nearly impossible to go maximum intensity for all 82 games of the year just because of the grind and the travel. I think the game suffers because of that.

Don’t get me wrong, we travel first class all the way. We have chartered flights, we have people who pick up our bags, so it’s absolutely the best it can be. But with that said, I still think the game suffers because we can’t be at our physical peak due to the overall grind. I think by dialing the season back to where we play 58 games and you play every team once – once at home and once away – you’re creating a more pressure-filled environment where every game means so much more, so you have to play at your best if you want to get into the playoffs. You can’t afford to have a four or five game losing streak in a shortened season.

JCF: In other words, you want to make it a little more like football then.

SB: Yeah, that’s why the NFL is such great theater. Those guys are bringing it every single day and it seems to come down to the last game every single year. It’s great theater, it’s great drama and it’s great entertainment and that’s what our league is about, so let’s do everything we can to bring as much of it as we can to the NBA.

JCF: Are there any rule changes you’d like to implement?

SB: One rule that I wish they’d institute is I’d like to see them follow the college model and make technical fouls count as a personal foul. I understand there are times when the game is heated and people get into it but there’s no reason why you can’t control your emotions while you’re on the basketball court. So there should be a penalty for not being able to do that and the penalty should be a personal foul. You put your team in jeopardy of losing you as a player when you’re swearing and throwing a tantrum. I’m not saying that would stop all technical fouls but it would make more guys pause to know that they’re hurting their team by yelling at the official.

JCF: How about the lottery system? You guys are finishing strong despite having been eliminated from playoff contention. And while we all know it’s important to learn how to win and to establish that winner’s mentality, there’s also no denying the fact that it’s hurting your team’s draft position.

Or take a team like Indiana; some of their fans are actually upset because the Pacers are playing so well and adversely affecting their chances to win the lottery. I know this isn’t a new issue but it hardly seems fair to punish a team and its fans for playing hard down the stretch, even when all hope of a postseason appearance has been lost.

SB: I’d like to see a return to how it used to be where you take the non-playoff teams and give them equal odds in the lottery. That would deter teams from sending their players home early for summer vacation. It would improve the ratings for the lottery, I’ll tell you that for sure.

I have a problem when you just mismanage a team so bad and gut it – it’s not fair to the fans. Once you alienate those fans it’s hard to get them back because there are so many other things to do these days. Let’s really test these GMs and owners and hold their feet to the fire.

JCF: So here’s the real question: Have you approached David Stern about any of these ideas yet?

SB: I’ve been told that if I’m going to present these ideas to the commissioner then I better have the answers to all his criticisms of my plan. And the No. 1 criticism is going to be the division of money and loss of revenue from shortening the season or losing a playoff game or shortening the exhibition season. It has to be made up somewhere. But I think you can recoup those losses over the long run with TV deals and with the amount of revenue that’s generated by the Stern Cup. Those can easily replace the revenue lost by ditching a few preseason games.

We still have to innovate our game to make it more appealing. And I do think you can create interest without ruining the integrity of the game. I respect tradition, history and the records of the great players that came before us. But you don’t want to ruin the opportunity for growth because we’re too conservative in our thinking. I think those things I mentioned are minor ways to tweak the game so that the interest could really grow. And that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to get more eyeballs on the game and create more interest.

You have to get creative with your selling of the product but I think over the long run you can attract more fans and those fans would be apt to buy more jerseys and buy more tickets and buy more souvenirs. I think it’s a great way to market the game and, more importantly, to make sure that the fans you have are fans for life.

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