Safety of NBA tournament courts questioned

The court is shown during an NBA basketball in-season tournament game between the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
The court is shown during an NBA basketball in-season tournament game between the Phoenix Suns and Utah Jazz Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

The NBA's new in-season tournament courts have generated significant buzz thanks to their bold painted designs, but at least three all-stars criticized the new playing surfaces as slippery and a potential safety hazard.

Jaylen Brown became the latest prominent player to join the chorus following the Boston Celtics' 108-105 road victory over the Toronto Raptors at Scotiabank Arena on Friday, which featured the unveiling of Toronto's grey-and-gold in-season tournament court.

With the Celtics clinging to a three-point lead in the game's final 15 seconds, Brown slipped while defending an inbounds play and Raptors forward Scottie Barnes got open in the corner for a potential game-tying three-pointer. Barnes's shot bounced off the rim and Boston claimed possession, but Brown slipped again while trying to free himself on an inbounds play with eight seconds left. Brown immediately clutched his groin in pain and fell to the court, prompting Celtics Coach Joe Mazzulla to come onto the court to check on his two-time all-star forward.

"I slipped. I might have strained my groin a little bit," Brown said. "We'll see how it feels. The court was just slippery all game. As players, we're all here for the in-season tournament because it's going to generate revenue, excitement, competition, etc. We've got to make sure the floor is safe to play on. We can't put our players out there and risk their health. Tonight, I thought the floor was kind of unacceptable. Guys were slipping all over the place, not just me."

Indeed, Raptors forward Precious Achiuwa said that he "felt myself slip a few times" during the game, adding that he "just want[ed] to play basketball but at the same time I'm not trying to get hurt."

NBC Sports Boston commentator Brian Scalabrine also expressed concern on the game broadcast.

"I like the way this court looks, but there's been about 10 times that guys are slipping all over the place," Scalabrine said. "If they're going to do these floors, you've got to make sure you're taking care of the guys."

Brown and Achiuwa joined a chorus of players who have raised concerns about the in-season tournament courts, which were unveiled last month to much fanfare.

The NBA commissioned the tournament courts to help fans and television viewers quickly distinguish an in-season tournament game from a typical regular season game and to help convey the event's elevated stakes. The new designs eschew 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.

After the Dallas Mavericks suffered a 131-110 road loss to the New Orleans Pelicans in an in-season tournament game Tuesday, Luka Doncic said that the Smoothie King Center's purple-and-green court was "really bad."

"It was really slippery and then in some places, the ball didn't really bounce," Doncic said. "If we're going to have these courts, we got to make sure it's a stable court. It was a little slippery, especially the painted area."

Indiana Pacers guard Tyrese Haliburton said that the Gainbridge Fieldhouse's blue-and-yellow court was "definitely slick to start" during a 121-116 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Nov. 3, which was the in-season tournament opener for both teams.

"Early in the game, I do think everyone was a little concerned," Haliburton said, according to the Indianapolis Star. "I felt like I was sliding everywhere. I'd take a step forward and then go to turn, and there was no turning around."

Leaving nothing to chance, LeBron James put the Los Angeles Lakers' yellow-and-purple court through an extensive pregame test at Arena on Tuesday. The four-time MVP was apparently satisfied by his sneaker-squeaking expedition and went on to take the lead in a 107-95 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers.

While slipperiness has been the most common complaint, the rollout of the 30 new courts has led to other problems. The Mavericks' greyscale tournament court wasn't available for the team's first home in-season tournament game because of a "manufacturing issue," and the Denver Nuggets' blue-and-yellow court had to be fixed because the three-point line was initially painted at the wrong distance.

The NBA hoped the in-season tournament would 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 league announced this week that its first in-season tournament games on ESPN averaged 1.7 million viewers, a 55% increase over "comparable windows" from last season.