By Martin Rogers
FOX Sports Columnist
In college basketball, it’s tournament time. In the NBAit’s time for a tournament.
Eight years ago, NBA commissioner Adam Silver put forward what remains one of the best ideas of his highly-regarded time in charge of the league. It hasn’t happened yet, and every time it seems to gain some traction it inevitably peters out. That, for all sports fans, is a shame.
Early in his tenure, Silver suggested a midseason NBA tournament, admitting that the All-Star Weekend festivities had become flat and stale. The concept was that the event would be loosely based on the Cup-style single-elimination competitions popular in European basketball and soccer and which run concurrently with the regular campaign.
Silver brought up the idea again at a conference in 2019, and the latest we heard – last December – was that some tacit support was growing among teams and the NBA’s Players Association.
We will see.
But if this year’s latest dose of March Madness has shown us anything, it’s that win-or-go-home basketball is unrivaled in its capacity for excitement and tension. The opening four days of the NCAA Tournament weren’t even filled with as many upsets as in some previous years, but there was more than enough fervor to energize the sports landscape.
A single-elimination format brings out the best in sports, the right kind of desperation and drama. When failing to win means you’re done, it changes the dynamic. The NFL postseason has that immediate feel. And yet, in the NBA last season, there were only three Game 7 matchups, where it’s win-or-go-home.
Cards on the table, I’d love to see an NBA Cup. Rumors have suggested that the latest version being talked about would mostly take place before Christmas and involve pool play leading up to a knockout bracket.
It sounds like a solid idea, but with respect to the powers that be, there is a version that could work better.
The period of the schedule that most needs a lift is the midway stage. By then, each year, we have figured out who is good and who isn’t, who is shaping up as a contender and which players are flying or flailing with their new teams.
When All-Star time comes around, things need a bit of a jolt. This would do it.
My concept would be for the 30 NBA teams to be joined by two selected national teams. By way of precedent, Croatia and China have previously been added to the Summer League.
The resulting number of 32 is perfect for a bracket – and we know how much America loves and appreciates one of those. Just like March Madness, start it all with a splash, a two-round window of Thursday through Sunday filled with constant action. In the first round, begin a new game every hour, so that viewers can switch out from any one-sided matchup in favor of something more competitive.
Differently to March Madness, don’t seed it. Have a totally open draw, so that anyone can meet anyone. If two of the best teams in the league play each other on the opening day, that’s great. All the more excitement right away.
Pause for a breath, give everyone a couple of days off, then have all the quarterfinals on the following Wednesday. And then, borrowing from the Final Four, bring all the semifinalists to a pre-picked location (Vegas anyone?) For the decisive matchups.
Players want to be playing less, not more, so chop four games from the regular season. That way, only the teams that made the final would play a total of 83, and they’d be motivated by $ 1 million per man, which is the prize pool being suggested.
The whole thing fits neatly into a 10-day span, which leads to some intriguing scheduling possibilities. How about sandwiching it into the two-week period between the NFL’s conference championship games and the Super Bowl, with the final to take place the day before football’s showpiece?
Or what about beginning it the Tuesday after the Super Bowl (Monday to be reserved for nursing hangovers and filling out brackets) to provide an immediate antidote to the post-football blues?
Most importantly, make sure it means something. In Europe, the Cups have been established for so long that they bring a sense of gravitas by themselves. That’s going to take longer over here, so sweeten the pot.
A big prize fund would be a tasty carrot, but a tangible basketball benefit would add even more legitimacy.
Maybe a guaranteed top-four seed in the playoffs for the winning team? Or how about if winning the Cup gives you a three-position boost in the standings at the end of the season? Or an extra draft pick?
There are lots of ways of doing it and lots of reasons to do it. Presumably, there are also plenty of reasons not to, which is why Silver hasn’t gotten his wish di lui so far. Just know this: done right, an NBA midseason tournament could be one of the highlights of the sporting calendar.
It would be a chance for struggling teams to salvage something from a season if they can get hot for five games. Obviously, there would be favorites, and you’d look first in a season like this to the Phoenix Suns, Milwaukee Bucks and the Golden State Warriors.
Bear in mind, however, that the Houston Rockets – rock-bottom in the West at 18-54 – went on a six-game winning streak earlier this year.
In a midseason tournament, anyone could be the champion and the unpredictability of single-elimination would enhance it all.
Two winners would be guaranteed though. Basketball… and us.
Martin Rogers is a columnist for FOX Sports and the author of the FOX Sports Insider Newsletter. You can subscribe to the newsletter here.
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