The NBA is a business, and like any capitalist venture, it is interested primarily in making money.
Over the course of its 72-year existence, the higher-ups have figured out a way to make the business of professional basketball a year-round deal. When people talk about the NBA having a 12-month season, it’s not far off.
That joke alludes more to the hot-stove of free agency and draft talk or summer trade season more than anything. What gets lost in this notion is how long the actual season of players playing basketball is and what that does to the brand as a whole.
When the NBA began in the late 1940s, the seasons were just under 70 games long. Looking back, that seems steep even considering the current structure of an 82-game season.
Comparatively, in high school and college, teams generally keep their season game totals under forty per year, including post-season play.
To leave out AAU and travel ball would be erroneous, but I liken this sort of competition to camp-play and pick-up games.
There is no substitute for real, in-season high school games or suiting up for your university.
In the EuroLeague, the regular season totals thirty games.
In each of these shorter seasons, the level of play improves as the season progresses. That improvement culminates with tournaments at the end of the season packed with excitement, fun games and better basketball.
The NBA, on the other hand, achieves no such greatness. We can all pretend that the Playoffs are “awesome” or “entertaining” each year because of a few walk-off buzzer-beaters here and there, but that doesn’t prove anything. A terrible game leading up to a one-point win on a buzzer-beater doesn’t erase the fact that the game was terrible.
In the 2019 NBA Finals we have witnessed the troubling nature of the incredibly long NBA season. Kevin Durant hasn’t played in months. Klay Thompson is injured. DeMarcus Cousins can’t get off the ground. What was supposed to be a battle between the league’s best two teams has become a glorified pick-up game with guys like Quinn Cook landing lead roles. This isn’t Finals basketball.
It comes down to an overloaded calendar, a bruising, poorly-officiated postseason and a never-ending schedule for these players and coaches. There is hardly an off-season anymore for our stars when you factor in the Olympics, summer ball and the like.
This hurts the game. We want to see the best players at their peak for the Finals. We will only get back to the glory days of captivating winner-take-all basketball when the NBA shortens the season and postseason.
It will never happen because the owners consider revenue lost from dropping a few home games, but the caliber of basketball will improve along with the health of the players if the NBA and its owners would take that risk.
The Players Association should be pushing for a shorter season as well. Their well-being is negatively impacted when they cannot perform at their best.
We have had great NBA Finals in the recent past. The Cavaliers beating the Warriors a few seasons ago after coming from behind was thrilling. Maybe the Warriors are falling apart because it’s impossible to keep a dynasty going for this long. I think the NBA would improve drastically by eliminating a handful of throw-away games per year. Start the season a month later and end it one month earlier. Introduce a tournament of champions that is not part of the NBA season so players can decide if they want to play or not.
No one is feeling pity for these guys making millions every year, but I do feel poorly about the product we are seeing on display. It could be so much better if we’d all stop being so greedy.
Shorten the season.