In the NBA, boxing out may be an everyday phrase. Thinking out of the box, however, is not.
Professional basketball's biggest innovations are in the rear-view mirror. And objects are not as close as they appear.
The three-point shot was added 33 years ago.
The lane was widened from 12 feet to 16 feet 49 years ago.
The shot clock was introduced 58 years ago.
You can argue that small-ball was an innovation, or the NBA Developmental League, or breakaway rims (what I wouldn't give for a good old-fashioned Darryl Dawkins special), but I say the only real innovation in the last 30 years was the full-court press of Rick Pitino's Boston Celtics. The team might have been a failure, but they forced the most turnovers per possession in the shot-clock era.
And that innovation made watching them fun.
I'm up for anything that enhances my basketball-watching experience. So I say the game could benefit from a little shaking up.
And I'm talking about something more than a red, white and blue ball.
Let me give you an example. In the late '70s, the league introduced a short-lived "three free-throw chances to make two" rule. Instead of legislating limitations to defensive effectiveness in order to speed up play, the NBA could simply bring that rule back today. Game pace would be ramped up while still allowing for stout defensive play.
With the three-to-make-two rule, Hack-a-Shaq would have never existed. And let's face it: Though the strategy of sending the bad free-throw shooter to the line can work, nothing in basketball is more boring.
For that matter, the incentive to foul in the first place would go way down. So defensive players would be more careful, action would be more continuous and everybody would win.
How else could we make NBA basketball more fun? Let's take some shots in the dark. (Hey, there's an idea: glow-in-the-dark balls and uniforms!)
Hockey has it. Arena football has it.
Why not build a wall surrounding each court, soft enough to absorb bodies crashing into it, but strong enough that a ball would bounce off it?
Think what would happen. All blocked shots would remain in play, unless they somehow cleared the wall. You'd have to play the ball off the carom.
Passes could be made off the wall like billiard shots, adding to game complexity.
Chasing a loose ball would provide new meaning to the phrase "giving up your body to make the play."
And owners, who love the revenue those pricey courtside folding-chair seats bring in, could encroach even closer upon the action, putting the prime seating right against the wall itself.
I speculate the league would have a fight on its hands from the Players Association, simply because of the greater potential risk of injury to players. But man, would it up the action on-court.
The NHL is universally and rightfully maligned as a mismanaged miasma. Gary Bettman's team has greenlighted a grand total of one good idea—actually proposed by NBC Sports: the Winter Classic. Putting the game on outdoor ice hearkens back to a better time for hockey and a simpler time for America.
Anyone who has ever played NBA Street knows not only how addictive it is (it's one of the reasons I had to give my PlayStation II away), but how oddly heartwarming it is. It humanizes the NBA like no other video game I've ever seen, because suddenly our hardwood heroes are hooping it up right where we do.
Why couldn't that happen in real life? Why couldn't each team pick a local street court and play one home game on it every year, much like hockey's Winter Classic?
We could even call it the NBA Streetball Classic.
Atmosphere makes a difference. I'm not a big fan of Olympic diving, but I will never forget the breathtaking sight in 1992 of divers standing on the platform with the city of Barcelona resplendent in the background.
This contest would return NBA players to the atmosphere in which they played simply for the love of the game.
The Streetball Classic could take place in December, on the anniversary of James Naismith's invention of the game, in warmer cities, and to kick off the season in cities with colder climates. Local youth and mentors could be awarded the handful of seats, because the audience should be like the normal crowd of folks who would gather for a street game.
Heavy police presence and a cordoning off roads would of course be needed, but that could be paid for by the revenue generated from a special television deal.
What might be nice as well is to let the halftime festivity be a sort of Gong Show for local court legends nominated by local basketball experts. This would give guys who never made it to college a chance to audition for a national audience, and perhaps, make a Rocky-like leap onto an NBA D-League roster.
If you've played NBA Street, you know there are no fouls. The Players Association would never go for that. But they might go for players calling their own fouls—just like a real street game.
Anyway, that's all details. But just imagine how unbelievably cool it would be to see our favorite teams compete on a playground, with a chain-link fence and maybe even a chain net.
It would be basketball as it was meant to be played.
A play-in game
It works for college basketball. It works even better in the MLB. I can tell you, when my hometown Detroit Tigers were in a 2009 play-in game against the Minnesota Twins, the excitement was at fever pitch. The game itself was one of the most thrilling I have ever seen.
Why not a one-game play-in, between the No. 8 seed and the No. 9 seed in each conference?
The eighth seed gets home-court advantage. Winner advances.
One more city gets end-of-season revenue and probably several more cities get hope for a few days at end of each season.
And if that extra game extends the season too far (as if it's not too long already), make the first round a five-game series again. It was much better that way anyway.
Playing a man down for late-game fouls
Like I said, there is nothing more boring, and to me more annoying as a fan, than the tedious parade of foul shots at the end of games too close to win by a shot, but close enough to think the difference can be made up by intentional fouling.
My idea for what we can do about it also borrows from hockey. Eject players for intentional fouls in the last two minutes of a game—and don't let them be replaced. In other words, an intentional foul would give the other team a 5-on-4 advantage.
You cannot for a second tell me that wouldn't make the game more exciting. Players would have a huge incentive to not foul. And those who chose to foul anyway would create a true sight to see: a one-man advantage for the other team for the rest of the game, either virtually guaranteeing them victory—or setting up an opportunity for a short-handed comeback which would live in NBA lore.
One-on-one for final-play fouls
I also have never been a fan of free throws deciding a game. This rule wouldn't come into play often, but I think it would be cool. I say "I think" because I might be too inspired by the end of the great soccer movie Victory to see clearly on this one.
If the final play of a game ends with a foul and an unmade basket, only the shooter and the defender who committed the foul would remain on the court. The shot clock would be set for 15 seconds. And a one-on-one play would decide the game.
There's something about just two players on the court that would be so dramatic. Technical fouls, for example, have much more drama than regular fouls because of the shooter being out there all alone. It's almost eerie.
A game-ending mano a mano would be the highest form of drama…and regardless of the outcome, would give ESPN something to replay even more hundreds of times than their usual SportsCenter clips.
NBA versus WNBA
Hey, it worked for Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs.
Why not let a WNBA All-Star team—a collection of the finest female players on the planet—play the NBA's two or three worst franchises, one game each, to determine who gets the first pick in the lottery?
The team who wins by the most points gets the first pick. But who knows: Maybe the women could take it to the men and inspire the world in the process.
If that's too radical a plan, it would be a heck of an exhibition for All-Star Weekend, with all proceeds going to the winning team's charity of choice.
Tell me that wouldn't boost All-Star ratings.
I remember when the two-point conversion was added to the NFL. Most fans and experts said it would be used maybe once a season. It's probably used once a game.
Similarly, as reader @Ross R. pointed out, when the NBA implemented the three-point shot, few if any thought it was the beginning of the end of the mid-range jumper (much to my lament).
But as long as we're going for percentages—after all, if you make 33 percent of your three-pointers, it's akin to making 50 percent of two-pointers—why not go for it. Let's make those super-long-range jumpers that Allen Iverson used to take—and occasionally hit—worth even more.
Add another arc to the court. This one would be 29 feet from the rim. And make shots beyond it worth four points.
Making shots from that distance with regularity would be a challenge simply from the perspective of physics. Would it be tempting enough to create offenses around it? Now you'd only have to make 25 percent of your shots to equate to 50 percent of two-pointers.
It sounds like an intriguing proposition for a coach to ponder.
The change would completely screw up the record books. But it also might be an offensive free-for-all, which would be a gas to see.
Speaking of the lottery, whether or not tanking—throwing games on purpose to improve draft positioning—actually occurs is a matter of speculation. But in case it does, it could be eliminated by a losers' bracket.
The four teams with the worst records play each other. The winner picks first, the second-place team picks second and so on.
Even if any teams really did tank the regular season, they sure as heck wouldn't tank that tournament.
These are just a few thoughts that crossed my mind. I would love to hear any others which cross yours. So post your best ideas.
After all, an intrepid gym teacher took a couple of peach baskets on a rainy day and changed the world.
Why can't a few good readers and writers on Bleacher Report change it again?