Thursday, October 7, 2010

Public Relations, Pride and Superstars: The Benefits of a One-on-One Tournament During the NBA All-Star Break

Recently, Kobe Bryant not-so-subtly declared that he could beat LeBron James “in [his] sleep” in a one-on-one game. While that may or may not be true, a recent blurb from Cindy Boren of the Washington Post was pretty quick to concede that we would never know for sure. I’m a little more persistent. I’ve been throwing this idea around in sports bars, tailgates and living rooms for the last four or five years. NBA basketball is a game of superstars, and it has relied on the likes of Jordan, Bird, Magic, Shaq, Kobe, LeBron and Wade to reach the heights of worldwide popularity that it enjoys today. Why not take it one step further and find out who the best of the best is in a one-on-one format?
With the luster of the supplemental All-Star weekend events dulling every year, the NBA realizes that it needs to do something. They tried infusing some excitement with a pretty lackluster H.O.R.S.E. competition that turned into a three-point shootout last year, and players like Steve Nash have made the skill challenge occasionally fun to watch, but the primary supporting act for the All-Star game, the slam dunk competition, has been awful for ten years. Why not try something new? Something big.
The main reason not to try is probably fear of injury. Don’t get me wrong, this is a big hurdle to overcome, but there are lot of people who make a lot of money figuring out how to insure things from Troy Polomalu’s hair to Jennifer Lopez’s backside that would love a crack at insuring a big time event like this. Plus, you have top players competing in international events every other year that include more games and practices than an event like this would entail. Again, the injury risk is significant but maybe not totally prohibitive.
The easter egg in the idea that I’m proposing is the role that each player’s choice of charity would play. Game shows like Jeopardy lure B-list talent with the opportunity to showcase their pet charities, and while NBA superstars may not have the same motivation, the P.R benefits for players like LeBron and Gilbert Arenas can still be substantial. I mean, a donation to the Boys and Girls Club that is tied to a debacle like “The Decision” is one thing, but one tied to LeBron posterizing Kobe Bryant in a one-on-one tournament final is definitely worth a lot more public relations capital.
Pride will also need to play a major part for this event to work. While players like Kevin Durant and Dwight Howard have participated in the All-Star weekend events over the last few years, players like Kobe and LeBron have mostly watched from the sidelines. Hopefully the allure of the title of “One-on-One Champion” or “Best Individual Player” will be enough for them to compete. It’s a more substantial claim than that of best dunker or pure shooter and it’s a gauntlet that Kobe Bryant may have inadvertently just thrown down.
Here’s what it should look like:
The Format
Eight-participant, single elimination tournament. Quarterfinal rounds consist of half-court games with the first player to score 11 points advancing. Semi-final and final rounds will be played up to 21 points. In order to advance, players must win by 2  points.
Four participants are chosen by fan voting. They are ranked by the number of votes received and placed into separate brackets accordingly. The remaining slots are chosen by the NBA players, and also ranked and placed according to the number of votes received. The winner gets an automatic bid in the following year’s tournament, but seeding will still depend on percentage of votes received.
Standard NBA rules, except for scoring and fouls. Each basket is worth one point.  A shooting foul results in one free throw, and players are disqualified after three fouls in the quarterfinals and four fouls in the semi-finals and finals.
Each participant designates a charity to represent, and win or lose, the charity receives at least $100,000. The tournament winner gets $1,000,000 for the charity of his choice and second place gets $400,000. This ends up being a total of $2 million that the NBA donates to eight charities, but given the amount of press and excitement that this event will garner, consider it money well spent.
Here’s to dreaming. I put my money on the Black Mamba.

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