The first NBA in-season tournament kicked off Friday evening. If you were unaware, you’re less informed than most because the gimmick has only been beaten into our brains every day since the season tipped. It’s really a brilliant way to dress up a regular season game, and the courts are so obnoxious that casual observers can’t help but be curious.
A la European soccer, the more in-season tourneys that stack up, the more value goes into the trophy. Taking home the Carabao or FA Cup is a legit consolation prize in soccer, and basketball is becoming so global that trebles and quadruples are yet-to-be-created tournaments away from happening.
The main difference, of course, is Champions League, Europa League, and the various cups have wrinkles. Single elimination, rigid qualifying, free for all — each is slightly unique, and takes place outside of the normal league seasons. The NBA and its owners are thinking small, and missing glaring opportunities for revenue. No one is better at maximizing profits than soccer, and you don’t need to be David Stern to see the dollar signs.
Make it so the top four to eight teams in the NBA regular season automatically qualify for a Champions League-type tournament. How cool would it be to watch the Lakers play Real Madrid (or whoever’s the best team in Europe) in more than an exhibition game? Noah Lyles called out the Association for dubbing its champ the world champ, so put your money where your social media outrage is. Additionally, the morbid sports enthusiast in me would love to see how overt foul-hunting NBA clubs handle FIBA rules.
The obvious hurdle is players are already overused, and they won’t want to risk injury for blah, blah, blah, contract year, blah, blah, blah. The NBA’s untapped advantage is it’s hands down the best and most popular professional basketball league in the world. There are gobs of opportunities begging to be exploited.
If it goes the way of the EPL or La Liga, coaches, and general managers would have to approach the season with allotted B teams, and all of a sudden those last six to eight roster spots are vitally important. It would let franchises become academies and provide opportunities for development in competitive situations that are still important but also aren’t the NBA Finals.
Allow fans to fall for the deep cuts like Liverpool fans fell for Divock Origi. The most diabolical thing pro soccer does also is its smartest. Followers know the intricacies of their team more than any other sport because the workload requires the entire roster gets run.
While I fully acknowledge what I’m proposing is grossly capitalistic and jeopardizes overexposing the game, imagine a Champions League Final* in Chicago, or Rio de Janeiro, or Prague, or Rome. How about a pro hoops 64-team, single-elimination March Madness — sprinkled from October to April — that mixes NBA organizations with international mid-majors? If you think the enthusiasm for this artificially enhanced in-season BS is high, wait until 76er fans mingle with some rando ultras from the Eastern Bloc.
(*The Basketball Champions League is FIBA’s version of this, but of course does not feature NBA teams.)
As it stands, the NBA’s in-season tourney has a vibe slightly elevated from the first NIT tourney (I think; not old enough to know). It could evolve into more than that, but I doubt it. This much-needed injection of competitiveness and variety can be the tip of the multiverse if the powers are willing to splice some IP.
And now the ‘best’ moment from the Rangers’ World Series parade
Texas celebrated its first World Series ever with a parade through Arlington(?), and fittingly World Series MVP Corey Seager gave fans a mic drop that needs no explanation.
For those of you who need an explanation: Seager was referencing Alex Bregman’s taunt after the Houston Astros clinched the AL West.