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.