February 10, 2011
As Mr. Dwyer noted in Wednesday's links, the NBA will not hold a HORSE competition as part of this year's All-Star weekend. After two seasons of mixed results, the league decided it wasn't worth the trouble to make it work. Now, as we do when all potentially good ideas fail, it's time to figure out what went wrong.
It may not seem this way now, but the first HORSE event held a great deal of promise. After years of it being suggested by columnists and observers, the league finally instituted HORSE for the 2009 weekend in Phoenix. With Kevin Durant(notes), Joe Johnson(notes) and O.J. Mayo(notes) involved, David Stern selected a good mix of stars, up-and-comers, and creative minds. They didn't only take crazy shots, but there were enough to make things interesting, including this shot by O.J. Mayo from the bleachers. The game wasn't perfect -- Kevin Durant eventually won just by shooting corner threes. With a few changes, though, including a bigger court, it could have become a mainstay.
Instead, the league colossally screwed things up for last year's HORSE competition in Dallas by refusing to let the game breathe. The choices -- defending champion Durant, Omri Casspi(notes) and Rajon Rondo(notes) -- seemed chosen seemingly for their marketing potential rather than their potential skill in HORSE. Durant's inclusion was almost necessary as the defending champion, but he was also the least creative participant in the first competition, opting for jumpers rather than off-the-wall attempts. Casspi had a high profile as a quality rookie and the league's first Israeli player, but he lacks the athleticism necessary for the craziest shots. And for all Rondo's creativity on the court, the man just can't shoot with regularity. Put a player like Monta Ellis(notes) or Brandon Jennings(notes) in the game and you're likely to see more personality and genuinely exciting shots.
The worst aspect of the 2010 HORSE competition, though, was that the league just didn't structure the event to suit the game's strengths. HORSE is a game that needs to breathe to succeed -- people associate it with hanging out with friends on an afternoon, not playing it in front of thousands of fans. The crowd is obviously an unavoidable fact when the NBA is involved, but you can fix that issue by letting the game last for a long period of time (i.e. not just 90 minutes) and keeping the interaction of the TNT crew to a minimum. If HORSE was going to work, it was by letting the players take control, not having the structure dictate the game. When last year's competition ended with Rondo and Durant in a league-mandated 3-point shooting contest from the top of the key, it was clear that the NBA didn't really trust the game to work on its own. It might have been right, but we never got the chance to find out.
HORSE can still work, but it's clear that it won't happen anytime soon. Here's hoping that the next time the NBA tries to bring a new highly anticipated competition to All-Star weekend, it gives it a real chance.