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NBA unveils bold new court designs for in-season tournament

LOS ANGELES — The NBA’s inaugural in-season tournament presented an interesting dilemma for league officials: Tournament games (except for the championship game) will count in the standings as normal regular season games, but officials felt they must have a different look and feel if the new event is going to gain credibility and stand out on the 82-game calendar.

In hopes of launching with a bang when the in-season tournament begins Friday, the NBA has undertaken a comprehensive visual redesign of its playing courts, eschewing traditional hardwood for a painted look that prominently features the new NBA Cup trophy design at center court and in the paint on both ends of the floor. The distinctive courts, which match the color scheme of each team’s “City Edition” jerseys, will be used during all in-season tournament games to help fans and television viewers quickly differentiate the action from nontournament games.

To maintain consistency across the league, each tournament court is oriented horizontally for a television audience. The 94-foot-long-by-50-foot-wide surface is broken up roughly into thirds, with one dominant color at the top and bottom separated by a 16-foot central strip of a secondary color. The dominant color also appears around the edges of the playing surface on all four sides to reinforce the bold aesthetic.

For example, the Los Angeles Lakers will play on a predominantly gold court that has a purple central strip. The Lakers’ logo appears at center court on top of the NBA Cup trophy.

“We’re all trying to figure out the best ways we can elevate this from the regular season so that people understand how important this is,” said Christopher Arena, the NBA’s head of on-court and brand partnerships. “It all comes together in the most powerful way in these courts. This is the first time we’ve had courts that are completely painted. There’s no wood being shown. Each court takes its inspiration from the uniforms.”

When NBA officials showed the Phoenix Suns’ tournament court design to Kevin Durant, the 13-time all-star expressed disbelief and amazement.

“We’re playing with a purple court in the NBA? No way,” Durant said. “Never done before, right? That’s insane.”

Indeed, Phoenix’s court is starkly different from the team’s normal look, which uses standard hardwood and sports an orange logo at center court and purple paint in the key. The tournament court is purple on top and bottom with turquoise as the central strip. At center court, “El Valle” — Spanish for “The Valley” — is written over the top of the NBA Cup trophy logo.

At Capital One Arena, the Washington Wizards will play on a gray court with a teal central strip that bears the team’s logo at center court.

The NBA’s redesigned tournament courts will perhaps be most noticeable in Boston, where the Celtics will trade in their signature parquet design for a deep green court and a champagne central strip. “Boston” appears at center court, while legendary coach Red Auerbach’s name and the No. 6, representing Hall of Famer Bill Russell’s retired jersey, sit at the bottom of the design.

The in-season tournament begins Friday and will run on Tuesdays and Fridays throughout November, with the exception of Election Day. The event will conclude at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas with the semifinals Dec. 7 and the championship game Dec. 9.

The multi-round tournament opens with the league’s 30 teams divided into six groups of five for a round-robin stage. Eight teams — the six group winners and two wild cards — will advance to a knockout round. Each team’s in-season tournament games will count as part of its 82-game schedule, but the teams that advance to the championship game will play an 83rd game that won’t count in the regular season standings.

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The NBA hopes the in-season tournament will improve early-season competition the way its play-in tournament, which was introduced in 2020, has helped improve the final two months of the regular season. The in-season tournament champion will hoist the NBA Cup, which was manufactured by Tiffany & Co., and each of the winning team’s players will receive a $500,000 bonus and a medal. The NBA will also recognize an MVP and an all-tournament team to add gravitas.

In addition to the new courts and jerseys, which will be unveiled later this week, teams will wear special in-season tournament shooting shirts and the ball rack will be dressed up with a new insignia. For the tournament semifinals and finals, the game ball will be decorated with a special logo.

While Arena said the NBA’s traditional “aesthetic direction” has been to treat the court as a background “stage” so that the “focus [would] be on the game,” the tournament courts were intended to be eye-catching in their own right.

“To put the focus on the stage, to have something that really forces you to stop and look and focus,” he said, “we think that was the right thing to do for this tournament at this time.”


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