Before the Golden State Warriors took the floor for their Jan. 9 game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, something very unusual happened.
After the usual hype video, hype man Franco Finn began rattling off the years of experience, alma maters and finally names of the team’s starters. He began, as he usually does, with, “In his 10th NBA season, from Michigan State, No. 23, Draymond Green!” Next, Finn announced, “In his eighth year out of Kansas, No. 22, Andrew Wiggins!” So far, so normal. Up next, “In his seventh season, from UCLA, No. 5, Kevon Looney!” Everything according to plan.
And then, for player No. 4: “Playing his 13th year out of Davidson, No. 30, Stephen Curry!” Well, that was new.
In fairness, this was not your typical Warriors game. The Jan. 9 date with the Cavaliers marked a return to the floor for the final man to be introduced: “In his 11th NBA season, out of Washington State University, No. 11, Klay Thompson!” It was the first time in 941 days that Thompson would step on the floor to play in an NBA game. Thompson had torn his left ACL during Game 6 of the 2019 NBA Finals against the Toronto Raptors, and then, after sitting out the entire next season and gearing up to play in the 2020-21 campaign, tore his right Achilles tendon. So, Finn made an exception and introduced Thompson, rather than Curry, last.
That night was the only time this season that Golden State has used the Curry-Thompson-Wiggins-Green-Looney starting lineup,1 but a Warriors public relations official confirmed to FiveThirtyEight that when it is used in the future, the order of introduction will flip and Curry, not Thompson, will be introduced last — just as he had been in every prior game he’d played and has been in all subsequent games.
The team’s preferred order of introduction has a nice flow to it. Green, a fan favorite and the team’s emotional leader, comes first. It gets the crowd pumped up for what’s to come. Thompson, one half of the Splash Brothers, is next-to-last. He sets the stage for the big crescendo that comes when Finn introduces Curry and the crowd whips itself into a frenzy cheering for the two-time MVP.
Contrast this style of introduction with that of, say, the Cavs. In-arena host Ahmaad Crump simply introduces Cleveland’s starters in order of position: point guard Darius Garland goes first, followed by shooting guard Isaac Okoro,2 “small” forward Lauri Markkanen, power forward Evan Mobley and, finally, center Jarrett Allen. Sure, knowing that the players will be introduced in positional order is comforting, but it’s not as though Allen is either a longtime fan favorite3 or widely considered the team’s best player.4 He’s just the center.
The Warriors and Cavaliers represent two extreme ends of the spectrum when it comes to the order of player introductions, but they’re not the only teams that have a specific, regimented way of doing things. Almost every team in the league has some rhyme or reason for introducing their preferred starting lineup in the order that they do.5
Some (like the Nuggets, Nets and Grizzlies) prefer to introduce their top star first. Many more save him for last. Some introduce the secondary star or fan favorite in the opposite slot of the top star,6 and some put that player second-to-last so they can build the crowd’s level of excitement throughout the introductions.7 Others go by position, though those positional orders can vary greatly from team to team.
|Los Angeles Lakers||PG||SG||C||PF||SF|
|New Orleans Pelicans||PG||SG||C||PF||SF|
|Oklahoma City Thunder||SF||PF||C||SG||PG|
|Portland Trail Blazers||PF||SF||C||SG||PG|
Many combine two or three of these strategies. The Atlanta Hawks structure their introductions with the forwards first, center in the middle and guards last, so Trae Young can finish things off. The Toronto Raptors do the same to ensure Fred VanVleet goes last. The Philadelphia 76ers use the same 1-2-3-4-5 positional order as the Cavaliers, which allows them to end on MVP candidate Joel Embiid.8
The Los Angeles Lakers introduce their guards first and forwards last, but also do so in a specific order. As director of game entertainment Matt Shelton explained via email, “Russ [Westbrook] is always first, [Anthony Davis] is always second to last and LeBron [James] is always last, unless he is not playing, and then AD goes down to last.” So, no matter which combination of players Frank Vogel starts alongside the three stars,9 they are introduced in the following order: Westbrook, other guard, center,10 Davis, James.
Some teams introduce additional criteria into the mix. Before their lineup was depleted by injuries and trades, the Portland Trail Blazers had an extremely detailed method for introducing their starting lineup of Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum, Norman Powell, Robert Covington and Jusuf Nurkić.
As PA announcer Mark Mason explained in an email passed along by a Blazers public relations official, “I chose to go with forwards first, guards last — with Nurk in the middle like a cream cookie. And there is a certain pecking order inside the recipe, as well. Covington came to Portland BEFORE Powell, so as forwards go, he went first. Because Dame is the icing on the intro cake, CJ would go before him in the guard department. Centers stand alone. In games where Dame would not play, CJ slipped down to the ‘finale’ position, and the other guard would take CJ’s intro spot. Same for forwards.”
But it hasn’t always been that way. Before Lillard became the team’s foundational superstar, the Blazers were led by LaMarcus Aldridge. During that era, Mason announced the guards first, then the center, then forwards — with Aldridge going last. “We had the luxury of Brandon Roy being a guard so he would go first in the intros, L.A. last,” Mason said. “When Dame became a full-on superstar, he went to the ‘finale’ position and the intro positions changed to F-F-C-G-G.”
The Blazers now use the same order of introduction for their opponents, only with no regard for stardom. “They are, after all, visitors,” Mason noted.
A similar type of switch occurred in Oklahoma City. With the current version of the team, the Thunder introduce their forwards first, center in the middle and guards last — with Shai Gilgeous-Alexander getting the hammer spot. But during the previous era of the team, it was flipped. The guards were introduced first, led by Westbrook. The forwards were introduced last, with either Kevin Durant or Paul George getting that final slot. When they traded Westbrook and received Chris Paul in return, the Thunder flipped to the current format with the guards going last, and they have used it ever since.
Some teams seem to have some level of internal politics at play. It wouldn’t be surprising if the Detroit Pistons and Houston Rockets wanted to introduce prized rookies Cade Cunningham and Jalen Green in the finale spot, for example. But because the Pistons (Jerami Grant) and Rockets (Christian Wood) each had high-profile free-agent acquisitions from the 2020 offseason who immediately assumed that final introduction slot upon joining the team, the rookies get introduced first, not last.
There are two teams whose reasoning behind their order of introductions escapes me. There are positional rhythms to them, to be sure, but seemingly nothing else. The best player is introduced neither first nor last. Same with the second-best player and/or fan favorites. They’re just kind of lumped in the middle. And there seems to be a big dip in presumed crowd excitement level at the end.
First, the Charlotte Hornets. They’ve actually introduced their preferred starting lineup two different ways this season. In the more unusual one, after PA announcer Patrick K. Doughty implores the crowd to “get off your feet, and greet, your Charlotte Hornets,” he begins by welcoming forward Gordon Hayward, followed by forward Miles Bridges, center Mason Plumlee, guard LaMelo Ball and then guard Terry Rozier. Bridges and Ball are easily the team’s two most exciting players, yet they are stuck in the middle of the introduction sandwich, falling second and fourth in line. There is no big introduction, and there is no crescendo at the tail end.11
Even more inexplicable is the order of introduction for the Utah Jazz. Like many other teams, the Jazz begin with the forwards, then go to the center and conclude with the guards. But the way in which they do so is odd.
The team’s two foundational players — Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell — fall third and fourth. Mike Conley is introduced after Mitchell. There is perhaps no bigger Conley fan in all of basketball media than me, yet even I cannot comprehend why the Jazz would not introduce him before Mitchell and thus allow the crowd to really feel itself with the introduction of a homegrown star in that final spot. This isn’t new for the Jazz, though. Back in the 1990s, they introduced their forwards, then center, then guards. The introductions began with 14-time All-Star Karl Malone … but 10-time All-Star and eventual all-time assist leader John Stockton was introduced second-to-last — before Jeff Hornacek. That’s an even more dramatic comedown than the one from Mitchell to Conley.
Whatever the rationale, Utah certainly does things differently than most NBA teams. With few exceptions, teams like to introduce their star players first or (more commonly) last. Many will even reconfigure an order of introduction they have used for years in an effort to get their new star player into the hammer spot. The Jazz, obviously, play a different tune.
Check out our latest NBA predictions.