All my fond dreams of regular blogging have collapsed under the weight of my thesis. Now that the unwieldy beast of a paper has been shuttled off to review, I have some time to get back to one of my great loves: idle pontification about sports. In the wake of yet another Elite Eight run for my beloved Wildcats, I am turning my attention to the greatest of all American sports, which we call the National Basketball Association, despite the fact that there are two nations competing in the Association, and the game itself was invented by a Canadian. In the grand tradition of proposing wholesale changes that will never be read, much less adopted, hit the 'Read More' jump to peruse my open letter to Adam Silver, not the commissioner we deserve, but the one we need right now.
First of all, big fan. I feel like I've been waiting my entire life for a single sport commissioner that I could respect, which is pretty much the exact same way I feel about the Presidency. Just when the Goodell-Selig-Stern triumvirate was about to drive me to cricket, there you were: unconstitutionally depriving cranky old racists of their billion dollar assets for the good of the game, and giving us all hope for a league that was finally open to making the changes it so desperately needs.
Basketball is fantastic, dynamic, exhilarating and, as a bonus, playing the game doesn’t degrade your mental facilities or shorten your life by dozens of years while sapping the experiential quality of the years it does allow. The League is also cresting in overall quality of play and depth of real stars. The question, then, is why is it still so difficult to engage? I would suggest that, much like Peter Jackson, owners are diluting the quality of the product they are putting on the table in order to maximize ticket revenue.
I think, as home entertainment systems continue to improve, that centralizing ticket revenue just isn’t a sustainable business model. Much like the Hobbit, we could cut half of the season and not only would we not miss the cuttings, we would enjoy the remaining games exponentially more. From a player health point of view, we need to cut back on the number of games. By a lot. This regular season is twice as long as it should be, and the ridiculous postseason lasts forever.
Every time this gets brought up, whether by me, the NBA players union, footishballers, I hear the same reply: the owners and the media deal as constructed couldn't bear that kind of reduction. As NBA franchise values are skyrocketing, the owners have little motivation to restrict their revenue stream. I mean, the Hawks are projected to sell for somewhere between $700m and $1B, or roughly what Manchester United cleared in revenue. Last year.
The Premier League in England is the best, most successful, wealthiest domestic sporting league in the world. As baseball fades into analog archives and footishball becomes uninsurable, and basketball rises in international popularity, this is our chance to establish the US as the center of one of the two dominant international sports, joining football proper. As that moment comes, maybe we should take some lessons from world football on how best to build a structure that can accomodate such scalability.
What could our NBA look like if we adopted the more European model?
The beauty of most foreign leagues is, of course, the relegation/promotion aspect. The easiest step in this direction for professional basketball is by doubling the number of leagues. Right now we have about one and a half leagues, as we have 30 professional teams, and 18 D-League teams, 48 total teams. The smallest expansion, let's say Seattle and Vegas in the west, maybe Louisville and Baltimore in the east, bumps that to 52 allowing this kind of reallignment:
Premier League - 20 teams, 5-team divisions. Schedule something like 20 division games + 8 conference + 12 non-conference (alternating noncon crossover division by year) = 40 league games
- Central: Rockets, Mavericks, Grizzlies, Thunder, Pelicans
- Coastal: Suns, Warriors, Blazers, Clippers, Spurs
- Central: Cavaliers, Raptors, Bucks, Pistons, Bulls
- Coastal: Hawks, Wizards, Heat, Nets, Hornets
League One - 16 teams, 4-team divisions
West: Timberwolves, Jazz, Lakers, Kings, Nuggets + Jam, Seattle, San Diego
- Central: Jazz, Nuggets, Wolves, Vegas
- Coastal: Kings, Lakers, Seattle, Jam
East: 76er's, Knicks, Magic, Pacers, Pistons + Red Claws, Baltimore, Louisville
- Central: Pacers, Red Claws, 76er's, Louisville
- Coastal: Knicks, Magic, Celtics, Baltimore
League Two - 16 teams, 4-team divisions
- Central: Vipers, Legends, Spurs II, Blue
- Coastal: Warriors II, Bighorns, D-Fenders, Stampede
- Central: Mad Ants, Skyforce, Drive, Energy
- Coastal: Charge, 87er's, Bayhawks, Knicks II
- Coastal/Central, Northern/Southern
There are almost 12,000 collegiate basketball players in the US and Canada, but each year only about 70 manage to continue playing. This is the biggset difference between the US sports structure and the English pyramid - the millions of people playing the game at the lower eschelons.
By creating the middle league, you create the possibility to relegate the worst team in each conference, every year. If we happened to make this shift in a goofy year where teams like the Lakers, Celtics, and Knickerbockers are in the middle echelon it would be an easier task to score a second valuable media contract for League One.
Another benefit of the increase of competetive fluidity between the tiers would be the increase for tournament possibilities. The raw number of games are not nearly as much of a problem as the interminiable monotany of the middle of the season when two squads banged and nicked go through competitive motions with as much sincerity as a Roger Goodell apology. Tournaments are fun, they are compelling in a way that breaks up the monotany, allows for layered rivalries, and affords more sponsorship/media deals.
Association Cup - 11 games maximum
Starting with the NBA Cup, a year long tournament featuring every team from the top three leagues, playing during designated tournament windows. We could even structure it where the higher seeded team is the home team, the winner goes on and the loser goes home, BUT allow for a tie forcing a replay at the lower seeded team’s court.
The real joy of the Association Cup would be in creating a bunch of semi-pro tournaments as feeders, so the early rounds would be the winners of those feeder tourneys competing against the lowest division, enabling the dream of a crew of pickup ballers, paying the admission fee for non-association teams, getting to lace it up against the big boys. Just imagine one of these teams surviving to the later rounds and getting an Association team to pack into a high school gym, Chaminade-style, in the event of a forced replay.
1-off opening cup
Winner of the League vs winner of the Association Cup - Maybe a Black Friday thing, with opening day actually pushed to Christmas
Champions League - 11 games maximum
Invite the French, German, Chinese, Italian, Spanish, Greek, Adriatic, Russian, Argentinian, Israeli, Turkish, Australian Champions to join each of the four Premier division champions in a 16 team Champions league tournament, that can be expanded as the supporting leagues grow in quality. Not only does this build the international brand, but keeps the most marketable NBA players in the lime. Group play, then move to HOME and HOME aggregate scoring!
Regional Tournaments - Cascadia Cup, Texas Shootout, New England, Midwest, CaliCup
Each tournament comes with a media deal that pays members for their participation, negotiable in the same manner as the current deal, or subsumed into the future Association deal.
This is our chance, Adam. We know that there are problems with tanking, and everyone wants to think that the draft lottery can fix the problem. In a relegation system, where maybe all three tiers draft from the same lottery, the value of a high draft pick would have to weighed against the revenue lost in relegation and tournament prizes. If the draft was restricted to the Premier League, with other tiers being left to mine the undrafted free agent pool, the incentive to tank would be eliminated.
I hope you are the man who can make this happen. If you aren't, I fear it won't ever happen and we will be stuck with the Sam Hinkie Ponzi scheme strategy for the foreseeable future. I believe in you, Commissioner. Please save the NBA from itself.
A Basketball Fan Who May Have Concocted This Entire Plan Just to Get a Team Back in Seattle
Thoughts on culture, community, and development.