Things I’d like to see in the NBA In-Season Tournament

Published November 8, 2023, 12:00 PMPolo Bustamante
Polo Bustamante

NBA.com Philippines writer Polo Bustamante has a few ideas to make the NBA In-Season Tournament better.

Last Saturday’s matchup between the Chicago Bulls and the Brooklyn Nets could have been another ho-hum November game. Instead, there was a different energy to that game. The players had a bit more pep to their step. The crowd and audiences were a little bit more engaged. The jerseys looked different. Oh, and how can I forget the court?

That’s because this game between the Bulls and the Nets wasn’t just any regular game - it was one of the first few games of the NBA’s new In-Season Tournament.

The tournament is meant to inject new life into the regular season by having all 30 teams compete in a mini-tournament within the season. And just like anything new, there are things to like and things that could make this idea even better.

So, with that, here are three things I wish to see in the next NBA In-Season Tournament.

A new tournament name

Last year, the NBA announced that it would be renaming its awards to honor certain players who embody that given award. So, the most clutch player in the league would win the Jerry West Award and the best defender would win the Hakeem Olajuwon award. It doesn’t end there. The Eastern Conference Finals MVP wins the Larry Bird trophy while the West Finals MVP takes home the Magic Johnson trophy. Even Divisional Champs have awards named after key players.

That’s a great template to follow for giving the NBA In-Season Tournament a new name. The current name is very self-explanatory, which is a good start. But to get fans and players to buy into this tournament, naming it after a superstar who dominated the regular season would be the way to go.

What do you think of the Allen Iverson In-Season Tournament? Pretty cool, right? Maybe the MVP of the tournament can also be renamed to a different player. Guys like Charles Barkley or Elgin Baylor, who played awesome in the regular season, deserve to be honored.

Something more than money at stake

It’s a good idea to give NBA players a small monetary incentive to try and make it as far as possible in the tournament. While the rumored amount for each player of the champion team is a hefty sum, when compared to what the top stars of each team make, ultimately it feels like a drop in the bucket. 

It also doesn’t engage fans because other than a regular season win, what will drive them to support their team when they play in the In-Season Tourney? They’re not getting a share of the prize that the team will win.

Want to get fans to head to the arena in droves? Give the winner of the tournament an advantage they can use later on in the season. How about home-court advantage throughout the playoffs for the winner? Or what about an extra lottery ball? Or an automatic play-in berth? Those prizes seem radical but with something so valuable at stake, teams will try extra hard to try and win the tournament. More than that, fans will go all out to support their team knowing they will be able to share in the prize somehow through the advantage their team will get.

Have local artists design the courts

One of the most noticeable things the league has done was to have each NBA team have a different floor from their regular floor which they use all season long. The court designs are extreme and a little bit too much. When the Bulls wanted their fans to #SeeRed, they didn’t mean it literally.

One of the best ways that the NBA can continue to differentiate the floors without being too intense is to have each team source a local artist who can work on the design of their In-Season Tournament floor. 

We’ve seen it before with the Nets. Back in 2021, the Nets celebrated Brooklyn-born artist Jean-Michel Basquiat with their City edition jerseys. They matched those jerseys with a court inspired by Basquiat’s work.

There are several talented muralists, artists, and graphic designers in each city whose art is just waiting to be introduced to the world. What’s a better canvas than a basketball court? These artists can truly showcase their style, their love for their city, and their passion for their home team through the court they design. That court will also become a true showpiece which home fans will be able to identify with. Each court will look different, allowing fans to take pride in their court and the local artist who designed it.