3:17 PM CST, December 12, 2012
The other day I was thinking with my brain, as I sometimes do, and I came up with a fool-proof idea to revolutionize the entire National Basketball Association. It’s all about the structure of the season, and if you have any clout—with some sports blog, with ESPN, with Mike Wilbon, and especially with the league brass and incoming commissioner Adam Silver, go ahead and explain the ever-loving-shit out of this idea to them. Attention, Bill Simmons: this idea is so not half-baked; it's so fully, completely baked, it should be in a muffin shop (or wherever it is baked things go).
Basically, the NBA, like all professional sports leagues has a season that’s far too long. This recently stirred controversy when San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sent home his star players, including Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobli rather than play them against the Miami Heat following an arduous four games in six nights. Current commish David Stern fined Pop $250,000 for this idea. Plenty of us have been saying for years that 82 games is too many, that 62 to 70 games stretched over the same amount of time would be a better idea. I’m always explaining to people that comparing the NBA regular season to the playoffs is like comparing two different leagues. Playoff basketball is as gripping as anything you'll find in professional sports, producing more highlights and down-to-the-wire finishes than you can handle.
The regular season, by contrast, is a bunch of guys trying not to melt their ACLs.
So let’s re-create the playoffs mid-season, during the long, hot winter when the players are slogging through, viewership has fallen off as casual fans wait for the playoffs, and all the teams going nowhere—you’re Charlotte Bobcats and Cleveland Cavaliers and New Orleans Hornets—are already planning to tank the season.
First of all, reduce the number of games to somewhere in that lower range, let’s say 66 instead of 82. Then at mid-season, right before the All-Star break, you have a single elimination tournament with all thirty teams, seeded by their current records with the top team in each conference getting a first-round bye.
The teams play, and in that algorithmic fashion are necessarily eliminated, but here’s the tournament’s grand incentive: the Final Four (is that copyrighted? Would it have to be something goddamn silly like “The Festive Four”? “The Fearsome Four”? “The Facinorous Four”?) teams get automatic bids to the playoffs. No matter what their records are at the end of the year, they get into the playoffs—though they would still be bound to their playoff seed by their record. Then the winner of the Markley Mid-Season Tournament (I assume it will be named after me), wins automatic homecourt advantage in its conference for the playoffs. Here are the reasons this is an awesome idea:
1) It cribs the dazzling single-elimination excitement of March Madness for the middle of the season, and since it has serious playoff implications, all the teams that want to win the championship will take it deadly seriously. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant—all those guys will show up with their most preposterous A-games.
2) Therefore, it will act as a playoff preview of the rivalries to come. It will allow the marketing gurus to craft even better storylines when the actual playoffs role around and whet fans’ appetites for the main event. Imagine how epic some of those games could be, how they would create highlights that would play over and over on Sportscenter and act as a hype machine for the league.
3) Yet another problem in professional sports is that by mid-season no one cares about the bottom 70% of teams. They’re either already out of the playoff race or jockeying for position at the bottom of their conference but without being taken seriously as contenders. The Markley Tourney gives every team in the league a chance to make the playoffs with one smashmouth three-game win streak. This means every fan of every team will be tuning in to see if their guys can turn their whole season around in thrilling fashion. I root for the Cavs, currently 5-17, and the Blazers, currently 9-12. There is very, very little chance either of those teams will be going to the playoffs, yet the Markley Tourney gives their players a chance to flip the script.
4) I hear you saying, “Well, yeah, but then a bunch of undeserving teams would get into the playoffs.” But my response would be, “So what?” So what if Miami plays a poor-record Cleveland in the first round instead of a mediocre-record Milwaukee? Furthermore, this could make the hunt for the final playoff spots all that more important. If you’re in the middle of the pack like Chicago, you’ve got to be terrified that two bad teams will play their guts out and slash the number of available playoff spots by two. It’s like throwing jet fuel into the fire of the playoff hunt.
5) Though teams and the Association would lose some revenue from a shorter season, this tournament would be a fine opportunity to make it up. If you structure it as a true event by moving the season back a bit so that the final game lands on Christmas Day, you can create a spectacle that will put All-Star weekend to shame. Throw on two to three games a night and spread it over about two weeks. The majority of players get some rest, fans are ejaculating, TV ratings are spilling off of charts, and sponsors are throwing their children in front of traffic just to cause a terrible enough distraction so they can be the first in line to partner with the NBA. I bet if you split that revenue evenly among the organizations, no one would make a peep about the seven fewer home games.
6) When I threw this idea to my roommate Pat, he pooh-poohed it, but that’s because he’s a bitter old dinosaur unwilling to accept innovation that threatens his fragile sensibilities. He’s the guy who likes his horse-drawn carriage when his roommate just brought home a motherf***ing Model T. He said that my scheme would disincentivize the winning team from competing in the second half of the season, but that’s ridiculous. Note that I said the winner of the Markley Tourney would get home court only in their conference. Home court in the NBA Finals would still be based entirely on regular season record. If you’re the Heat or the Thunder, there’s no way you’re benching Durant and Westbrook or LeBron and Wade for large swaths of the season’s second half. You still want that home court advantage in the Finals and you certainly still want the top seed.
So there you go, NBA: Like most of free market theory just came vomiting out of the mind of Adam Smith, NBA regular season theory just got a similar intellectual revolution courtesy of Stephen Markley. Do I get a Nobel Prize for this or something?
Copyright © 2014 Chicago Tribune Company, LLC