THE most recent round of the NBL Cup had some marvelous storylines, New Zealand's Lazarus-like rise from rock bottom to 44-point victors chief among them.
The game that followed was equally enthralling, with Sydney and Melbourne United playing out a thriller. You'd think one or both would dominate discussion in the aftermath but you only had to take to Twitter to see the chat had gone down another path.
A cavalcade of current and former players took to the forum to talk about advertising decals and the very obvious danger they pose. Australian basketball legend Andrew Bogut has led the criticism, but it's striking that so many current players are riled enough to speak so publicly about it.
Kings Next Star Didi Louzada was scathing in his view after his side's loss to United on Saturday, posting vision of his clear slip on a decal while guarding Yudai Baba:
"This league is kidding me they don't care about the players... that's my thoughts! I'm tired of being silent."
Teammate Dejan Vasiljevic doubled down on retweet.
"THE DECALS ARE NOT PLAYER SAFE - NO MATTER WHAT BS FIBA SAYS."
Brisbane's Anthony Drmic joked that "channeling your defender onto a decal is a legitimate defensive tactic this season."
It is highly significant that Louzada in particular would be so vocal given he came to the league as part of the Next Stars program funded by the NBL. He's also front nd centre of a new doco on the program the NBL is heavily promoting.
As a draft-and-stash player, one could expect a broad range of observers beyond Australia to take note of his views. The NBL will be hoping it's not prospective future Next Stars. It's obviously a poor look for a league soaring in so many areas but still tethered to amateurism on issues ordinarily as non-negotiable as player safety.
There's no coincidence that Kings players would feel emboldened to speak up given club owner Paul Smith has always been willing to call out the NBL amid an otherwise deafening silence from fellow club owners. You wouldn't expect any United players to follow suit given Larry Kestelman retains ownership of the club while also owning the league (a conflict in itself that is not going away).
Bogut's recent criticism of the league and public sparring with Kestelman has been something of a glass shattering moment and the fact a host of stars are willing to speak on it publicly is something of a line in the sand moment. Take it as fact their is some broader unrest in the playing ranks about other issues.
For one, the NBL Cup presently playing out has added eight games to a season only going ahead on the back of players taking pay cuts. In any work environment, you'd be pretty dirty if you were literally being asked to do more work for less money. It's also got seven of nine teams bunkered down for a month away from home and their families.
If you cover the NBL in capacity you'll learn that players in this league are, by and large, as low-maintenance as professional athletes get. They're not creating off-season summers "from hell" and off-field scandals that occur with depressing regularity in the football codes.
In this columnist's experience, all have spoken glowingly about the league and gone about their business as fine ambassadors for it. They're more than entitled to a safe working environment in what's already a high-risk industry.
The NBL has quite rightly trumpeted the fact the league has never boasted a greater wealth of talent, but failure to provide that talent with a safe working environment in favour commercial dollars is flat-out exploitative.
NBL Commissioner Jeremy Loeliger's public assertion that the current decals "sit very close to the 'ideal' standard" was staggering. Player safety should never, ever exist on a sliding scale. That conclusion expressed in a league statement was apparently the result of an "independent analysis." Who carried out this analysis, like so many things at NBL HQ, remains shrouded in mystery.
In reality, the league's public approach to decals has been passive aggressive nonsense, with not-so-subtle suggestions that players are biting the (financial) hand that feeds them. When it comes to money over player safety, that finger is most certainly pointed in the wrong direction.