There were three huge things happening in sports over the weekend, and if you grew up with NBA basketball you would never have placed offseason league acquisitions in that trio. But as amazing as it may seem to anyone versed in pro basketball history, the NBA hot stove league now rivals that of the NFL, and arguably outdistances both MLB and the NHL. In the same time period MLB was having games in London involving the Red Sox and the Yankees, and the U.S. Women’s World Cup team was engaging in a huge match with France on their home turf, speculation and details about various NBA machinations was getting top billing in a lot of newspapers, and at worse, equal coverage.
It’s easy to remember a time when there would be zero information about pro basketball from the time the playoffs ended until the season began the next year. There might be a random item here or there, but never loads of stories containing speculation about who was going where and when. NBA free agency this year didn’t even officially begin until early morning July 1, but the stories have been coming fast and furious for weeks. It turns out once it was official there was so much news who could keep up? Huge names like Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving headed elsewhere, along with former NBA Finals MVP Andrew Iguodala. Past All-Stars like Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris were in play, while potential MVP candidate in Anthony Davis was traded before free agency. There was constant news and speculation about which NBA star would be going where next, and this was before things even really got going.
Sports Illustrated, ESPN, The Sporting News, indeed a host of websites were issuing 24/7 updates, stories, features, interviews, whatever they could get about impending free agency deals or potential ones that might occur in the wake of others. The NBA stayed in the sports news cycle in spite of all the things happening elsewhere. Commissioner Adam Silver was making even more news with a series of proposals he was floating. One involved a mid-season tournament very similar to what happens in various soccer leagues where teams play for trophies and titles that aren’t the ultimate, yet are extremely popular with their fans. A second was a possible play-in tournament at the end of the year involving the bottom four teams in each conference, with the winners making the playoffs. This was envisioned as a way to combat tanking, since it wouldn’t make sense to lose a lot of games, then still find yourself playing for the playoffs at the end.
But the one that generated the most positive response involved a proposal to shorten the season, something many have long thought was necessary. Contrary to what some may think, the NBA hasn’t always had an 82-game regular season, nor best-of-seven playoffs through all its rounds. When the NBA began in 1946 as the Basketball Association of America (they changed the name in 1949) the season was 60 games. It was gradually lengthened, in large part due to expansion, until it became 81 in 1966, and 82 in 1967. But due to a lockout in the 1998-99 season, the teams only played a 50-game schedule. Then due to another strike/lockout in 2011-12, there were only 66 games played.
There’s general agreement somewhere between 60 and 70 games would probably be the ideal season. That season would start around Halloween. It could end in early April. If the playoffs were shortened (as in fewer teams involved or lesser games in the early rounds) it might even be a possibility that the NBA year could end before June, something that used to happen all the time. Believe it or not, at one time the NBA season actually ended in April.
However, no matter whether any of those suggested changes ever happen, the biggest thing is the NBA has become a year-round, 24/7 league. It’s no longer something that’s tucked in between the end of football and the start of baseball, and it’s getting far more postseason attention than college basketball. Now whether the constant parade of player turnover and team roster changes is a good or bad thing can be debated. It’s certainly not likely anyone thought when free agency began you would see the parade of superstar defections and team switches that are now commonplace.
But whether that’s a good or bad thing notwithstanding, the bottom line is the NBA remains a major part of the sports landscape long after the NBA Finals have concluded, and that’s certainly not something anyone would have predicted back in the ‘60s,’70s or even the early ‘80s.