Ok, so, I'm a big sports fan. I've grown to love soccer very much. I love the passion, the international feel of it, things like that. I also love basketball. The athleticism, the sheer height of abilities, the way the athletes are not hidden behind pads or under helmets make it feel fairly personal. Ever since the Dream Team ran through the world's competition in Barcelona in '92, the international world has been trying to catch up with us on the court, and they've gotten pretty close. People may have thought they had surpassed us in '04, but when we stopped fooling around in '08, we dispelled that rumor (great try though, Espana). The influx of players from overseas in the NBA has showed us that there is definitely talent in other parts of the world. By my (very unofficial) count there are 82 players born in foreign lands playing in the NBA this season, although a few of them have represented the USA in international competition at some level (most notably Tim Duncan, who is a native of the US Virgin Islands.) Their domestic leagues have gained credibility, with the influx of money as the owners start to recognize it's potential. NBA player Josh Childress left the Atlanta Hawks to play for Greek club Olympiakos. Early season Rookie of the Year favorite Brandon Jennings elected to play a season for Virtus Roma when it looked like his test scores would keep him inelgible for college. The fan support has become what it is for soccer, in most places, like at Greek club Panathinaikos, where Ultras section Gate 13 (video found here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtQAJH_JoXM&feature=related ) cheer, chant, and sing their team through thick and thin. The games themselves are actually pretty similar. Movement off the ball is required, specific skills for specific positions, excessive contact is penalized, things like this. I say all these things to set up my idea for the day: Let's make basketball more like soccer.
International tournaments, friendlies, rivalries, same thing on the club level. Most of these already exist in Europe and South America, mainly thanks to most of the basketball teams just working in conjunction with long standing soccer teams, let's just get in on the action. Seperate tournaments for teams of various success levels. High pressure events, like world championships. Imagine if after the Lakers won the NBA title this year, they were off to Germany for a two or three week long tournament against the best teams from Brazil, Argentina, Greece, Italy, Spain, Australia, and China. Imagine during the off nights of the NBA playoffs if the teams that missed out played their own tournament to decided where teams pick in the upcoming draft. Imagine a winter break where US Basketball called the Spanish federation and said "Hey, we've got a free week over here, you guys wanna come over and play a game in Atlanta?" How would basketball fans not get excited for this?
Now, obviously, it would require shortening the NBA season. Easy enough. Currently, NBA teams play an 82 game schedule, consisting of playin the other four teams in your division 4 times, twice at home, twice away. 16 games right there. They also play 6 other teams from their conference in the same manner, so another 24. We're up to 40. Then play the other 4 teams from their conference 3 times, adding 12 more games, pushing us to 52. Each teams plays a home and home with each team from the other conference, with 15 teams, that makes 30 games, and gives us our total of 82 games. Here's my proposal. Keep the 4 games with division rivals, and home and home with opposing conferences, putting us at 46. Now, I don't really see the rhyme or reason for having to play some teams in your conference three times, and others four, so I say play them all three times, alternating who gets the extra home game each year. There, we've cut 10 games from the schedule (essentially two and a half weeks, for our purposes, we'll call it 3).
Now, we have 3 weeks to fill. I mentioned the idea of a winter break earlier in this post. January is the doldrums of the NBA season. It's cold outside, the excitement of the new season has worn off, we're not yet to the All-Star Break with all the fun it provides, and nowhere near the late season playoff push. I vote we alleviate this by adding an international break. Make it a week long for international teams to schedule friendlies and practices, and for guys to just get a rest. Make it the second week in January, if you ask me. International basketball is fun, and a good chance for guys to test themselves. We all love a good positional matchup, why not add a bit of national pride in it? Chris Paul vs. Ricky Rubio in a USA vs Spain game? Yes, please. Plus, we could see players we don't normally see, unless you're a diehard watching NBA TV on a saturday afternoon. Players like a Rubio, or some other hot up and coming prospect.
Now, that takes up a week, maybe 9 days. So we've got 2 weeks, 12 days to fill. I vote we use the week after the All Star Game in mid-February and the last week in March. Now, we've got these empty dates, how do we use them? Easy: Single elimination tournament. Get a title sponsor for it, sell special tv rights, and make some money to pay for it, and for bonuses for teams/players to get farther so that they care. Now, to make the numbers work, we either add a bye for a certain number of teams, or find two more teams to compete. We can easily find two more teams: Take the two top teams in the D-League. There, we have 32 teams. Seed it based on NBA records, taken at the time you take the records into consideration for the coaches of the all star teams. So we've got a 5 round single elimination tournament with all the pleasure and pressure of a winner take all situation. Now, obviously, the Lakers would CRUSH the Reno Bighorns, and the Magic would DESTROY the Nets, so help out the less talented teams a little bit by having them host the games. Give them the opportunity to make some revenue for their trouble, and more encouragement for the better teams to make it farther to get some coin themselves. Play the first two rounds in six days after the All Star Game, and the last three in a span of 10 or so around the second-third week of March. Make it like the English FA Cup, where you just leave some gaps in between games here and there so that a team that makes it farther can schedule these games and not be penalized for making it farther while other teams just sit at home. Have the eliminated teams still playing their games at the same time in order to try to protect against tanking from the better teams. There, now we have our Coca-Cola NBA Madness Tournament exclusively on NBC. Yes, I want it to be NBC, cause I miss the NBA on NBC theme music.
Now, we've reached the end of the NBA Season. Lots of fun. Already handed out a trophy, and we're getting ready for the second season. Except half the teams aren't playing and we've got some down time in between playoff rounds/games. So, another tournament sound enticing? Yes, yes it does! 14 teams have missed out on the playoffs. Let's make them play to decide draft order. Why? The lottery is stupid. There, I said it. It promotes tanking, and the teams that try to do so to get the coveted first pick often don't even get it. Make them earn it. Since 14 teams is a bit of an odd number for a tournament, we take the seven teams that missed out in the Eastern conference, and have them play a round robin in a neutral city (like Greensboro, NC, with the Coliseum there), and do the same with the West (Vegas, Thomas Mack, easy). Top four from each group moves on to the knockout stages, held in Kansas City at the nice, new, shiny Sprint Center. Round of 8 is a 3 game series, round of 4 and the final a 5 game series. It wouldn't last any longer than the playoffs, and would be exciting, like all tournaments, and would get the job done. Again, sponsor it, sell the tv rights, and make some money while we're at it.
So, the playoffs are over, we've crowned a champion, and determined the first 14 draft picks. But we're not done. Nope, not yet. We're going international again. The NBA champion goes on to play a tournament against the champions of the other 7 best leagues in the world. A straight up "Champions Cup" like what we have in soccer. Set it up with two 4 team groups, top two teams advancing to the next round, a best of three series, and then a best of three championship series. Move it around the world each year. Put it in London one year, Sao Paulo the next, then New York, so on and so forth. So for this summer, it would have been a tournament featuring the Los Angeles Lakers from the NBA, Montepaschi Siena of Italy's Serie A, Panathainaikos of Greece's A1 Ethniki, Valladolid of the Spanish Liga, Flamengo of Brazil, Atenas of Argentina, and Guandong from China. Sure, the Lakers would likely roll with ease, but at least it would be fun.
So, that's my proposal. Let's make basketball like soccer. Most of this is already set up in Europe, let's see if we can jump in, or work with FIBA to just re-do the whole thing, and we'd have a true World Champion.
Thoughts? Questions? Ideas to add on?
Thanks for reading,