NBA D-League D-stractions

Unlike the rest of the world, I was actually a bit surprised by NBA Development League President Dan Reed’s apology “for a Utah Flash promotion that never should have happened.” Why was I surprised? Well, because as a Utah Flash season ticket holder, I was there.

On Monday, December 7, 2009, D-League commisioner Dan Reed was in Orem, Utah. We don’t usually see Reed in Orem at Flash games, but on that night in particular, with a record attendance in excess of 7,500 people, Dan Reed was in Orem: all smiles, hovering around court side, meeting people, shaking hands, and giving interviews.

What are the odds Mr. Reed knew about Brandt Anderson‘s challenge to Michael Jordan for that night? And what are the odds that Dan Reed knew Michael had not actually consented to be there that night for the challenge?

Yet if Reed disapproved in any way of the promotion, you couldn’t tell by looking at him. In fact, he seemed quite excited by it all… well, until halftime that is — but then again, a booing, vanishing crowd can have that affect.

Still, even after the game Dan Reed didn’t seem  too bothered by the night, telling the Salt Lake Tribune that the stunt was done “all in good fun.

Then came the Internet and media firestorm, followed by a new tune.

By all appearances, Dan Reed went from silent partner to scolding parent in less than 24 hours. One day Mr. Reed flew to Utah to be near the action, then the next day he tried to distance himself from this “ill-conceived” promotion.

However, despite their recent missteps, I actually have a lot of admiration for Brandt Anderson and Dan Reed.

Both Anderson and Reed have ample talent to succeed at most business endeavors I’m sure, yet they’ve both chosen to take on what has to be one of the toughest jobs I can think of. How on earth do you build a loyal customer base for a league whose main attractions vanish to the NBA as soon as they prove to crowds how good they are?

I’m sure I do NOT know the answer to that question, but I do have a perspective they might benefit from: the perspective of their existing fan base.

We come for great basketball at a great price, not for the gimmicks.

I feel like D-League principals obsess over the question, “How do we fill seats?” rather than asking themselves, “How can we cost-effectively make our customers happy?”

Consequently, they’ve found a way to fill every seat in the house, and not make many of those attending happy enough to pay to come again.

Happy fans come back. Happy fans tell friends. Happy fans bring friends. It’s not about filling seats, it is about making the customer happy, and what makes fans happy is good basketball. It’s what we paid to see.

I didn’t buy Utah Flash tickets on the chance that Michael Jordan might show up. And I didn’t buy tickets in case I might get called down to win a flat screen television, or to catch freebies being dropped from a blimp.

Believe it or not, I bought D-League tickets so my family and I could enjoy great basketball.

I don’t know if I’m in the minority or the majority on that, but do know that at Utah Flash home games, an awful lot of effort is expended in distracting fans from the game itself, and very little in helping them get into the game and understand it better.

Need an example? How about three?

(1) Generally speaking, a noisy crowd is a good thing at a basketball game, but it is infinitely better that the noise come because the crowd is totally into the game, rather than from fans clamoring to be thrown free stuff while the game is underway. T’s for 3’s and other freebies being thrown into the crowd during game play actually prevents the crowd from paying attention to the game they paid to attend. By all means, do it when play has stopped, but stop when play has resumed.

(2) If you slow the game down too much, the crowd loses interest. That’s why the league is very cautious about how video replay is used assist the referees. That being the case, what kind of damage to the pace of the game and to fan interest is happening when timeouts are made longer because the players cannot take the floor because the “entertainment” has still not left the floor, or have left the floor but still need be cleaned up after?

(3) Should blimps really be floating overhead dropping freebies on fans during game play, causing fans to look overhead and be oblivious of what is going on on-court? Or can the blimp wait for time outs and quarter breaks so as to not distract fans from getting totally into the game?

Again, a lot of effort is expended to distract fans from the game, rather than helping them get into the game more and understand it better.

Besides, you want fans coming for the game, not for any halftime spectacle. The game is there each night, the gimmick? Maybe it goes over with the crowd, maybe not. (Just ask Bryon Russell.)

So rather than spend money so that a family can walk off with a large, flat TV, put print outs of the quarterly stats at the aisles so that people can see what is going on and get into the game more. In Utah’s case that means getting a much faster printer, and perhaps a small, light duty copier, but many fans enjoy knowing what is going on, and printed stats are another opportunity to sell ad space as well, right?

Rather than blaring music maybe 50 percent of those present even like, could the p.a. announcer use some of that “dead time” to share statistical insights on the game? Player highlights? An audio version of the “hustle board” you see around many arenas?

Rather than project play onto screens no one looks at (because the live game is so much easier to see), why not project game related data? Or at least video replays of the game we are watching.

And while it may look good on camera to have all those seats near the court filled, it is pretty frustrating for those of us who actually paid for them to see them being filled with floaters, especially knowing that nothing is ever done about them.

Finally, and this is probably out of reach for any team owner, but nothing ruins a game like inexplicable officiating.

Mind you, I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT BAD OR MISSED CALLS, those are always going to happen, and happen to BOTH teams.

I’m talking about what truly appears to be GAME CONTROL.

Tonight as the 3rd quarter was underway, I told a friend who I brought for his first ever Utah Flash game, “Uh oh. This isn’t good.”

“Why?” he asked.

“The refs are making really weird calls that favor the Flash.”

“Why is that not good?” he asked.

“Because every time I see them do this in the 3rd quarter, they reverse it in the 4th quarter.”

Tonight the home team had 3 players foul out (and 1 player with 5 fouls), while more than a third of the visiting team’s 107 points came from the free throw line. Reno went to the free throw line 48 times, and were never once called for 3 in the key.

It would be one thing if the Utah Flash were hackers and the Reno Bighorns angels, but according to the d-league’s own statistics, if you look down the list of players sorted by fouls per game, Reno has SIX players listed before you find the first Utah Flash player… who happens to be Luke Nevill who is no longer with the Flash. [EDIT: These statistics have now been updated to include Friday’s games, so the list no longer looks as it did when I wrote this.]

In other words, this season’s statistics [to date] say Reno is by far mostly likely to foul, and my eyes certainly saw that as well tonight. It was inexplicable how tonight’s officiating crew of  Josh Tiven (#58), Kevin Scott (#43), and Ben Taylor (#63) just could not seem to see the moving screens, grabbing, pushing, and arm hacking being committed by anyone wearing a green uniform. The crowd could certainly see it, and as the night wore on, the inconsistency wore on them.

All night Reno was very late coming out of their huddles, and I mean holding up the game will you please get your tails onto the court late, yet not even one delay of game warning was blown, much less technical foul. Add those constant delays to stopping the game 61 times for personal foul calls to shoot 80 free throws, with the vast majority of those being shot by the visiting team, and you get some idea of fan frustration with the game.

It wasn’t bad officiating, it was biased officiating. When Utah Flash Brad Jones protested a call, he was given a technical foul. When Reno Bighorns coach Jay Humphries protested a call, the referees actually reversed the call on the floor to accommodate him. It was an out of bounds possession call, and the refs reversed the original call based not on a video replay, but solely because the Reno coach said it should be their ball. It was inexplicable. All game long Reno players and coaching staff were mouthy and on the refs, and often very deserving of a technical foul, yet the refs patiently let them do it. Carlos Wheeler was walking back to the bench and was literally two steps away from his seat, and made a quiet comment to his teammates, not even to the ref, and the ref standing at midcourt T’d him up for it. The treatment players and coaches were given that game was far from even, and there certainly was no “home court advantage” happening for the Flash.

Some might wonder if the Utah Flash, who had only one loss in the season prior to tonight (when it was beaten by a team with a losing record), was being punished by the D-League for a promotion that embarrassed the d-league nationwide.

Let me be clear: *I* do NOT believe that to be the case.

Conspiracies like that are just too over the top for me, but I do struggle to understand how a professional officiating crew can be so inconsistent. If anyone has a theory about this, by all means please share.

Meanwhile…

Mr. Reed, Mr. Anderson… want to make the d-league more attractive?

Put the game first, because first and foremost, that is what we’ve paid to see.

Anything that detracts from the game, including halftime spectacles, in game promotions and (especially) referees with agendas, ultimately diminishes our enjoyment of what we paid to see, and quenches our desire to support the NBA Development League with our time and dollars.

Hat’s off to the players and coaching staff. Despite what goes on around them, they are what makes holding season tickets worth it.

  1. mookiemookie12-20-2009

    Tom, I just wanted to commend you on a great site. You write really well, in a way that is very easy to read — something that is quite often rare on the internet these days!

    I’m just taking a greater interest in the D-League of late, so I will be checking in to see what you have to say about the Flash in the future.

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