Surface-level changes are coming to the NBA’s In-Season Tournament. The games will be played on new, fully painted (i.e. no visible woodgrain) courts, all 30 of which share a visual aesthetic, the league announced Monday.
These alternate courts are intentionally louder than what you’re used to. Many have bright, bold color schemes. All feature a 16-foot wide “runway” across the length of the court, with the NBA Cup — the trophy awarded to the winner of the tournament — displayed enormously at center court and less enormously as silhouettes in both lanes. They have been designed to give In-Season Tournament games, which begin this Friday, a different look than standard regular-season fare.
All 30 courts, organized here by tournament group, have a shared aesthetic.
Most of the court designs are stylistically linked to the teams’ City Edition uniforms, which home teams will wear throughout the tournament. All have either a logo or a wordmark on top of the NBA Cup at center court, with the name of the team or the city or both (or, in the case of the Philadelphia 76ers, “City of Brotherly Love”) on the baselines.
Christopher Arena, the NBA’s head of on-court and brand partnerships, said that, for the most part, the league has aimed to treat the court “as a stage” and to “allow the focus of the game to be the game.” This meant that the playing surfaces themselves were not supposed to be distracting.
“For the bulk of our season, we are reinforcing that,” Arena said. “But to take 60 games out of that season and to put the focus on the stage and to really have something from a broadcast standpoint…that really forces you to stop and look and focus, we think that was the right thing to do for this tournament at this time in the history of the National Basketball Association.”
For five teams — the Boston Celtics, Chicago Bulls, Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans Pelicans and Portland Trail Blazers — this is the first alternate court in franchise history.
The Celtics, whose primary court is the only one in the NBA made out of red oak, will host their In-Season Tournament games on maple hardwood, like everybody else.
The first annual In-Season Tournament will begin on Nov. 3 with the first of seven tournament nights, all on Tuesdays and Fridays. Group play will conclude on Nov. 28, after which eight teams — the six group winners, plus one wild card from each conference — will advance to the knockout rounds. The quarterfinals are scheduled for Dec. 4 and 5 (in NBA team markets), and the semifinals and the championship game will be played on Dec. 7 and 9 in Las Vegas.
Some more notes on the courts:
- The In-Season Tournament will mark the first time NBA games have been played on completely painted courts.
- The court for the semifinals and the championship game in Las Vegas “will be similar,” Arena said. It will feature two dynamic colors, the runway and the NBA Cup. It will, however, be “more league-identified.”
- The “runway” is supposed to evoke a literal one, “up to Vegas and to winning the In-Season Tournament,” Arena said.
- It “isn’t normal,” Arena said, to “take on 30 courts and redesign them and paint them and get them to team facilities within the span of three or four months.” The NBA worked with three manufacturers (Connor, Horner and Robbins) and several finishing companies to locate, sand, paint and refinish the courts in time for the tournament.
- Initially, a more conservative design, wherein the “aprons” (out-of-bounds areas) were a certain color, was in play. After “we started to show some leaders,” there was a shift in a bolder direction, Arena explained. “And then you start to really think, ‘Let’s go mild to wild and see what we can do.'”
- In addition to the courts, there will be many smaller visual cues to distinguish In-Season Tournament games from regular-season games. “Every little detail has been thought of,” Arena said, from the score bugs on the broadcasts to the ball racks and the shooting shirts. In Vegas, the ball itself will have a commemorative logo on it.