The past few years have largely been good ones for the NBA. They had a glamour team in the Golden State Warriors, one that won frequent championships, changed the way teams played the game with their long range shooting style, and alternately thrilled and angered fans nationwide while helping the league get big viewing audiences on ESPN and TNT.
The NBA announced plans to create an African league, expanded its operations in Asia and Latin America, added more European stars, saw its social media profiles keep growing, and emerged as the nation’s number two sports league behind the NFL. They were particularly popular among young people, in stark contrast to MLB.
But so far this season things aren’t going so well. From the Houston Rockets’ China controversy, where their GM’s public support for Hong Kong protesters led to multiple cancellations of planned events in China and a temporary ban there on game telecasts, to ratings declines of 19 percent on ESPN and 21 percent on TNT, suddenly the NBA’s fortunes have taken a dip.
Some of it is due to several star players being injured and unavailable. The loss of Kevin Durant on top of multiple injuries to other star players have turned the Warriors from perennial contenders to cellar dwellers, a club now so bad last week the league took them off a pair of previously scheduled national telecasts. There’s also widespread discussions about possible major changes to the regular season.
Proposals range from a midseason tournament replacing the All-Star game to a postseason one involving teams vying for the last two playoff spots. There’s also talk about a schedule reduction and reseeding the conference finalists in an attempt to better ensure that the two best teams end up in the Finals. There are even those who propose just ranking teams one through sixteen for the playoffs, eliminating divisional and conference standings.
But the league has to get the Players Association to agree on any and all changes. Schedule reductions will be problematic unless they’re willing to let salaries remain constant, plus they would also have to convince owners that losing home dates in the short run will ultimately improve things in the future.
Likewise playing tournaments in season may be an established part of world soccer competition, but it’s far from a sure thing in the NBA. Who would participate and how they would be paid would also have to be figured out in this proposal.
Whatever happens moving forward, it seems inevitable that in the next few years there will be big changes in the NBA, certainly in the regular season format. Whether they prove positive or negative will be closely watched.