Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Ask FRB: The N.B.A. Cup

Hey, FRB, you sure are good at criticizing sports formats you don't like. Let's hear one of your bright ideas.

At this writing, it's mid-February, and the N.B.A. regular season is about two-thirds complete. But each team still has 25 to 30 games left to play. And in all candor, it's just not going to be that exciting. It's pretty clear where most teams are going to end up at the end of the season. For example, the team that FRB supports, the 76ers, are probably going to finish as the 7 or 8 seed. Maybe everything will go right and they will move up to No. 6. Wow, thrilling.

It's no secret that the N.B.A. season is a long grind. But solutions like cutting it to 50 games aren't economically feasible.

So here is a way to give pro basketball an exciting - and lucrative - mid-season jolt: the N.B.A. Cup.

It will take place at this time of year, replacing the increasingly dull All-Star Game and assorted All-Star Week shenanigans. Every N.B.A. team will come to a single city for a week-long single-elimination tournament (it will have to be a city with at least two big basketball arenas).
A few weeks in advance, the teams will be drawn into a 32-team knockout grid to facilitate N.C.A.A.-type pools for fans. To add spice, the draw will be completely at random, with no seeding. You would think the draw could probably get good ratings as an ESPN special, with reaction and instant analysis of which teams got screwed.

On Day One of the tournament, there will be eight first-round games, one starting every hour from 3 P.M. to 10 P.M. Eastern, alternating between the two arenas. In an orgy of televised basketball, every hour another team is eliminated! And it repeats on Day Two with the other eight first-round matchups.
After a day off, Day Four brings all eight round of 16 matches, again starting once an hour. Day Five has a quarterfinal quadruple header, with all games now all at one arena.
After another day off, we have the final four on Days Seven and Eight. The winner is the N.B.A. Cup Champion.

Now let's deal with your questions and complaints.

There are 30 teams in the N.B.A., not 32!
So let's find some interesting teams to fill the last two slots. FRB's choice would be two top European teams, perhaps the Euroleague finalists, which last year were Barcelona and Olympiakos of Athens. But you could also invite the D-League champion, the Chinese national team, the Globetrotters, or whoever you like. The N.C.A.A. would balk, but wouldn't it be fun to see a college all-star team involved?

N.B.A. games usually last more than two hours. You can't squeeze all these games in!
In order to pep up the games even more, we're going to make them 40 minutes instead of 48. FRB would probably be willing to go to 30 minutes, but understands that may be too much change for some people.

Teams aren't going to care about this new competition and are going to tank games.
This is the most serious concern, but some combination of the following should motivate even jaded N.B.A. stars:
  • Give the players a bunch of the TV money earned from this tournament for every game they win.
  • Have each team pick a local charity and give it a bunch of money for every game won. Make the differences matter. For a first-round loss, the local children's hospital gets some stuffed animals. For a championship, it gets a new wing. 
  • Give the winner an extra draft pick, coming between the first and second round.
  • Give the winner some extra salary cap room.
  • Let the winner host the tournament next year.
  • Give the winner a post-season playoff seeding boost. For example, if it misses the playoffs, give it the 8 seed. If it's seeded 5-8, bump it up to No. 4 for first-round home advantage. If it's a 2, 3, or 4 seed, give it the 1 seed. If it's a 1, give it home-field over a 1 from the other conference with a better record. And if a team wins the Cup and has the best record in the regular-season, give it five home games in the final.
You may find some of these ideas wrong-headed: "A random draw? Unfair!" "40 minute games? Blasphemy!" "Mess with the salary cap? Too controversial!" But those are details that can be adjusted. It's hard to argue that in some form, a single-elimination tournament featuring the best basketball players in the world would be tremendously exciting.

The N.B.A. Cup. You'd watch, wouldn't you?


  1. I would watch this in a second. Give me enough pizza and caffeinated beverages and I'd make it a point to see as many minutes of action as possible.

    The most inspired part though was teams 31 and 32. I'd love to see some Euros come over, and I think the Globetrotters would do better than most people think.

    Though, thinking more about it, when the Warriors got eliminated by the G'trotters, I'd be really sad.

  2. C. Montgomery BurnsFebruary 15, 2011 at 6:34 PM

    To shorten the games, broadcast them without commercials. Recoup that lost revenue by placing sponsor's logos on the screen, the court, and the uniforms. You can even let a sponsor name the tournament and present the damn cup.

    Single elimination, commercial free NBA games.
    Who wouldn't watch this?

  3. Love the idea. Especially having it all in one city. It would be bigger than Super Bowl week.
    But if it's too much "change" for the NBA, maybe they could add 2 eight team tournaments for the last playoff spot in each conference at the end of the season. Top 7 are in per usual, but the bottom 8 in each conference play a knockout for the last spot in each conference.