It’s the worst kept secret in the NBA: the All-Star Game kind of sucks. The build-up to the weekend is fun, elements of the celebrations are enjoyable to watch, but the game?
Even Commissioner Adam Silver admitted this at the 2019 Sloan Sports Analytics Conference, when he said: “The All-Star Game didn’t work… We put an earring on a pig.”
The lack of competitiveness led to lower interest and a dip in ratings. Nearly 6.8 million viewers tuned in according to Sports Media Watch, which marks the lowest it has been since 2010.
But a mid-way break in the long NBA season is good. It allows players, teams and media to convene, and attracts significant interest to gear up for the stretch run just ahead of the playoffs.
Basketball has secretly become the world’s best year-round sport. In the UK, nobody follows tennis unless it’s the two and a half weeks in early July when Wimbledon is on. Football (soccer) has a three-month hiatus. American Football enjoys a miserable 20 weeks over the coldest months of the year. And baseball is a lengthy affair, to the point that nobody pays attention to it unless the World (Erm?) Series is on.
NBA training camp begins in September and the season kicks off in October before building up to Christmas. You have about six weeks of trade deadline gossip and then comes All-Star break, a contract buyout period and free agent signing deadline. Then contending teams jockey for position as they look to make their life easier in the playoffs. Once those positions are secured, six weeks of drama ensues before the Finals kick off in June. And by the time that’s over, the NBA draft takes place, trade season begins, and the free agents begin signing their new contracts and moving to new teams. Oh and Summer League then shows off the brightest new talent and gets us excited for it all to kick off again in September.
So the league, its players and the staff need a mid-point break, and the idea of a mid-season tournament came up at the Sloan Conference, which has been suggested before now.
Re-inventing the wheel
There are hundreds of successful sporting tournaments around the world, so there will be nothing truly original required to make an entertaining competition. One idea for an NBA Cup – some have toyed with calling it The Stern Cup after former league Commissioner David Stern – would see each team face off against every other division rival twice (one at home and one away) in a points-based league table. Two points for a win, and zero for a loss. However, if you lose by less than five, you will get a bonus point, and the same goes if you win by more than 10.
Every game would be important, and each team will fight to the end, even in a loss to come away with something. If you lose just one or two out of the eight, it could cost you a spot in the next round, yes, but your team and players could also miss out on more earning potential, plus the chance to shoot for a brand new title.
Only one team will advance to the next stage from each division, so tie breakers will be utilized. The first is the away-win record: the more games you win on your opponents’ floor the better. And if that still leaves you with no clear division champion, point differential can be used. If two teams are still tied, then we may as well flip a coin to see who advances, so that is what we would do. Each team would play eight games over the course of two weeks.
If one team takes close to maximum points but only has one away loss to another city with an identical record, it could be a nail-biting finish, with the eventual winners not necessarily being in charge of their own destiny. It’s a system that works brilliantly in the Six Nations, a rugby tournament featuring England, Wales, Ireland, Scotland, France and Italy.
Rugby’s Greatest Championship is back. @WillGreenwood and @Nolli15 host the launch event with interviews from both Men’s and Women’s captains as the clock ticks down to Round 1. #GuinnessSixNations #GuinnessGreenwoodSeries @SixNationsRugbyhttps://t.co/kK8e4SjteI
— Guinness GB (@GuinnessGB) January 23, 2019
The six division winners would then advance to the next stage to compete in one-and-done March Madness style bracket, seeded based on the points earned in the previous round.
This could take place at a different time of year to the division stage. For example, one before Christmas and another around the time of the All-Star break.
Having these extra tournaments could have multiple knock-on effects. Firstly, they could incorporate other international leagues.
The NBA’s investment in Africa could pay off, where the African teams have a division-like tournament that mirrors the first stage before Christmas, then the winner enters the bracket. It limits excess travel in the early stages but the win-or-go-home bracket could give anyone an opportunity to win a championship. It would also reignite the rivalries and relevance of existing divisions and regions.
To fit the tournaments in, the 82-game structure of the season would have to be addressed. But the deserving nature of some teams above others during the current regular season is already up for much debate, due to teams not playing every opponent the same number of times.
By cutting back the regular season to 58 games – one home and one away for every team – the tournament would guarantee 66 games for each NBA franchise, the income from which could remain under the revenue sharing model. The earnings for those teams entering the next round would end up being where the extra money gets made. The bracket finalists would play four games in total and you could even name a host city for the tournament, just like the All-Star break and Summer League.
It may take a few years for the athletes to fully develop interest, but this would not be a short-term investment. And yet, for these elite individuals to know that the loss of just one game could be so pivotal to the team’s chances of taking the title would encourage their competitive fire. This is a marketing dream.
The NBA is close to perfect but there are always little tweaks being done to make it better. But sometimes the best things need to stay ahead of the curve and try something bold to stay at the top. The NBA Cup offers a lot of benefits to the league, but mostly, it would keep the party going and turn the league in to a true year-long experience.
Feature photo – USA Today Sports / Double Clutch illustration