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Original Issue

We Love This Game, but...

...there are some sights and sounds in the in-your-face NBA we could live without

Men in suits. They're the most dreaded sight in sports in these days of labor unrest, which is why we're grateful that the NBA and its players agreed not to have a lockout or a strike this season. Thankfully, the NBA, unlike major league baseball and the NHL, will not be trotting out guys in ties to give nightly updates from the bargaining table. Nothing against NBA commissioner David Stern, but if we have to watch someone named David in a suit on TV every night, he'd better be reading off a Top 10 list and introducing stupid pet tricks. While we're at it, there are a few other sights we would like to be spared during the pro basketball season.

1. Dennis Rodman's pierced navel. Is it our imagination, or did Rodman's bare midsection get more airtime last year than Roseanne? Rodman, the San Antonio Spurs' unpredictable forward, has a habit of lifting his jersey at every opportunity, exposing, among other things, the ring in his belly button. We're willing to live with his tantrums, tattoos and bizarre hair colors if he'll just flash a little less flesh this year. Good TV camera work is appreciated, but does America have to know whether a player has an innie or an outie?

2. Pregame pyrotechnics. Player introductions used to be a P.A. announcer reading a list of names. Now the intros are more like a Stones concert, what with the laser-light shows, scoreboard videos, music louder than a runway at La Guardia and guys taking longer to say, "Shaaaaaquiiiiille Ooooo' Neeeeeal!" than it takes to play the first quarter. Before playoff games last year, even venerable Madison Square Garden gave in to the trend, darkening the arena for laser lights during New York Knick introductions—a risky practice, it says here. It's safer to try plucking Charles Barkley's chest hairs than to sit among a crowd of 19,000 New Yorkers with the lights off.

3. Slapping five after a missed free throw. It's bad enough that everyone but the ball boy gives a player a high five after he makes a foul shot, but the logic of slapping palms with someone who has just thrown up a brick eludes us. The latter seems to be an extension of the athletes' growing tendency to celebrate any act, successful or not. What's next? Miss a putt, get a hug? Of course, with free throw percentages plummeting, if players had to wait until they actually made a foul shot before they accepted congratulations, some of them would be lonelier than the Maytag repairman.

4. Another fade to black. The woeful Sacramento Kings are the latest team to make heavy use of the color black in the redesign of their team logo and uniforms—in part, no doubt, to make themselves appear tougher. Memo to the Kings: When Woody Allen puts on a leather jacket, he doesn't become Sylvester Stallone.

5. Madonna. She's on ESPN more than MTV. O.K., O.K., she loves pro hoops, but quit showing her in the stands in every night's NBA highlight package. We don't care which power forward she's supposedly dating this week. Besides, it's not as if she's dancing in the aisle when the cameras cut to her in the stands. She just sits there like a normal person who doesn't appreciate being stared at. Yo, Material Girl, do everyone a favor and spring for a satellite dish.

6. Trash talking. The biggest yappers try to persuade us that it isn't the trash that incites player fights, because they all talked smack on the playgrounds as kids. What they fail to mention, however, is that the three-knockdown rule should have been in effect for some of those playground games.

7. Flying mascots. If we could make one suggestion to the Gorilla, Hugo the Hornet, Squatch and the rest of these knuckleheads, it would be to lose the trampolines. (Actually, if we could make one suggestion, it would be to get career counseling, but junking the trampolines would be second.) We like our acrobatics without artificial sweeteners. You know those halftime routines in which a mascot uses a small trampoline to propel himself above the rim, then does a 360 and dunks the ball? It's more impressive when Shawn Kemp does the same thing with only his Reeboks to help elevate him.

8. The Los Angeles Clippers. In opening a season in which they promise to be particularly awful (even by their own deplorable standards), the Clips play two games in Japan against the Portland Trail Blazers. Before the Clippers return, is there any chance their passports could be, you know, misplaced?

9. Games that won't end. The final minutes of some games are like Kodak moments—they last a lifetime. What happens when the score is tied, there's one minute to play and you're so caught up in the game that you don't even notice that the kids are microwaving the cat? Timeout. Then the ball is inbounded, and the guard is immediately trapped in the corner. Timeout. The teams take the floor again, but before the clock starts...timeout. You doze off, and by the time you wake up you're watching a late-night rerun of Cheers. Solution: Prohibit timeouts in the last minute of a game. Coaches won't like it, but what do we care? They're just men in suits.