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H-O-R-S-E Is Coming to the NBA. What Could Be Next?

The league announced on Wednesday that it’ll soon televise a H-O-R-S-E tournament featuring NBA and WNBA players. With that in mind, here are some other contest ideas Adam Silver could pursue.

Getty Images/Ringer illustration

The possibility of organized sports returning in the near future looks dire. So far, leagues’ “best” ideas have been biodome-like concepts that seem at best unrealistic, and at worst, potentially harmful. But that hasn’t stopped the NBA from trying to come up with short-term remedies to fill the sports void. The league’s first swing, an NBA 2K tournament between players, hasn’t exactly been a hit, so now we’re on to attempt no. 2. On Wednesday, ESPN reported that the league would be broadcasting a H-O-R-S-E competition featuring players like Chris Paul, Trae Young, and Zach LaVine, as well as WNBA players and recently retired NBA players.

As someone who got alarmingly invested in the replays of games 6 and 7 of the 2013 Finals on Wednesday night, I’m sympathetic to what the league is trying to do. It’s not even so much that we miss sports as much as we miss any kind of action, conversation starter, or well … anything. This doesn’t mean that we should risk serious health issues just to get sports back, but it does mean that we could lean into other kinds of competition. H-O-R-S-E is a fine second step (though the first time the league tried this a few years ago, it didn’t fare so well). Yet given that we may be in this situation for the long run, I came up with a few other basketball-specific ideas—some more realistic than others—to get us through this current sports desert:

3-Point Shooting Contest

One thing I’m worried about in regard to the H-O-R-S-E competition is the pace. There’s no rhythm to H-O-R-S-E; it’s somnambulant basketball that’s not going to translate well on TV unless it’s edited and enhanced by production magic. A 3-point contest, on the other hand, could be far more entertaining.

Don’t make it a normal, All-Star-style, 3-point contest, either. Let’s get weird with it. Instead of five racks surrounding the 3-point line, put one between the 3-point line and half court and the other behind half court and make the shots count double and triple, respectively. Maybe I don’t have all the logistics covered—how can we get each player that number of basketballs and racks? Who will rebound? Can we ship the players buzzers?—but if you put this in a tournament-style bracket and suddenly we’re watching Steph Curry make five straight 3s from half court? It will all be worth it.

Realistic scale: 6/10

Steph’s Warm-up Routine

Speaking of Steph. In a recent Wall Street Journal interview, Curry explained that he had a hoop built at his home so that he could get shots up while the league is on hiatus. Armed with this knowledge, why not take cameras there and have him recreate the pregame routine that fans around the country show up early to arenas to see? We barely got a glimpse of Steph this season, as he missed most of the year with a broken hand. But he’s healthy now, and what better way to pass our basketball-less time than to have Steph show off his skills?

You may be thinking that no one would tune in just to watch Steph go through warm-ups, but as someone who has been fortunate enough to witness his routine in person, let me say: You’re not going to find a more enjoyable use of 15 minutes. Watching Steph’s routine is like watching a video game come to life. His joy on the court—even just in warm-ups—is impossible to miss, and if the league is looking for ways to uplift, you could do a whole lot worse than the two-time MVP. And why stop at Steph? Can we get Kyrie to go through his wildest dribble moves and pirouette layups? Or maybe Aaron Gordon can show us his array of dunks? At least this way he won’t get robbed a third time. By June, I might even be willing to tune in to a Chris Paul midrange clinic.

Realistic scale: 8/10

Long-Distance 21

If you’re not familiar with the blacktop game of 21 (or at least the way I used to play it back in junior high) the premise is simple: a group of players all congregate on a half court and try to get to 21 points (3s are worth two points) in an every-man-for-himself free-for-all. This particular version would be impossible given our current health restrictions, but we could shift the parameters a bit and simply made it a timed scoring competition. Have two players at separate locations; made shots inside the painted area would be worth one point, those in the midrange worth two, and those beyond the 3-point line worth three. The first player to 21 points wins. Unlike H-O-R-S-E, this contest would add some adrenaline given that there’s a target score (hello, Elam ending).

Maybe 3-point shooters would have too big of an advantage. Fine. Make a bigs bracket and a guards bracket and let them go at it. Who knows—maybe we’ll get to the point where each team sends out one representative in a basketball Hunger Games and this is how we decide who wins the 2020 title.

Realistic scale: 7/10

NBA Chopped

Apologies to the Top Chef heads, but I’m going with the format of my personal favorite cooking competition here. Normal Chopped rules would be impossible to enforce in this scenario, but say you let a handful of willing NBA players pick eight ingredients from their kitchens to make a dish in a set amount of time. As John Collins told me this week, he does have a chef that cooks for him, but he’s been forced to fend for himself more during this time of social distancing. I’m sure other players are also finding themselves in similar situations—so why not make a game out of it? I can already see the Zapruder film analysis on Twitter where a random user discovers that Savannah James slipped LeBron a ninth ingredient while he was making tacos. James Harden, meanwhile, would protest the matchup only to be called out for using a spice mix that technically has more ingredients than were allowed. OK, I’ll stop.

Now you’re probably wondering—how would the food be judged? Here’s where I argue that the reason Chopped is great is because of the journey, not necessarily the result. Sure, the competition factor is part of why the show works, but there’s no bigger thrill than watching a contestant try—and usually fail—to make ice cream in the dessert round. So I say everyone cooks a dish, fans on Twitter vote, and the league donates the “prize money” to an organization that’s providing meals for people in need. Everyone wins.

Realistic scale: 4/10

One-on-One Games

In 2011, the lockout forced players to find other avenues of competition, including blacktop games around the country. See: Kevin Durant at Rucker Park. Those kinds of mass pickup games are out of the question, but what about a simple one-on-one matchup? We know, for example, that all of the Lakers have been tested for the coronavirus and only two were diagnosed. What if we got Anthony Davis and LeBron, for example, to play a quick game of one-on-one. You’re telling me you wouldn’t watch this?

A couple of caveats here: Not only would both players have to be healthy, but this could only happen once the league canceled the remainder of the season. If we were to arrive at that conclusion, players could participate without the risk of hurting themselves and missing a possible playoff run. Even with all that factored in, though, the threat of injury might still be too much to get players and teams on board, so this one is probably not making the short list.

Realistic scale: 3.5/10

NBA Jeopardy!

Here’s a nerdier idea. Take two players, put them on camera at the same time—like the All-Star Game draft—and have them play virtual Jeopardy! Can we get Alex Trebek to host from his house? If not, let’s get Ernie Johnson in there with Shaq and Charles Barkley for levity and commentary. (As an aside, that three-man group should also call every one of the events I have listed above.)

To be clear, the title “NBA Jeopardy!” doesn’t mean that all categories and questions are going to be basketball-related. I say we give them one basketball category and make the rest non-basketball topics. Plus, I imagine an NBA player is going to be far less embarrassed to not know about a random war in the 1800s than some trivial bit of NBA knowledge.

Realistic scale: 5/10