Tuesday night while I was trying my best to keep my eyes open watching the MLB All Star Game, a couple interesting tweets started to filter into my feed from an Adam Silver press conference. Admittedly I’m not much of an NBA fan, despite winning back-to-back fantasy leagues with my friends, but some of the information attributed to the league’s commissioner got the hamster inside my brain cranking on the treadmill.
This vague idea that Silver would be agreeable to a mid-season, soccer-style tournament certainly caught my eye. Hmmm? That’s not an out-and-out terrible idea.
As a soccer fan (sorry, not sorry), part of the fun is tracking the various concurrent competitions over the course of the year from the regular season season, to the various domestic cups to the continental tournaments. That said most American fans often forget the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup — a 100-year-old tournament open to all soccer clubs in the U.S. — even exists, while failing to embrace the English halcyon nostalgia that encompasses the FA Cup across the Atlantic.
Still, some sort of knockout style pro basketball tournament would be cool. That problem is, the American closed league structure doesn’t quite fit into an “open cup” type tournament simply due to the lack of viable teams. The franchise system is much different than most countries open pyramid divisions for professional sports teams, which operate independent of the “major” leagues. A soccer team like Fulham, relegated from the Premier League in England in May doesn’t become a minor league feeder team now, it tries to play its way back up into the top flight — and has a shot to knock off EPL teams in the FA or League Cup.
And as fun as it sounds on paper or to speculate, Limp Bizkit will reunite its original lineup, win a Grammy and mass critical acclaim before we see NCAA teams squaring off against NBA squads, so let’s not even consider it. If we’re going for some sort of an open cup, it leaves the scattered minor league basketball teams like the UBL, CBL and ABA, leaving out the D-League since its teams don’t operate independently from the NBA franchise umbrella.
So mostly it leaves Silver’s vague idea as some sort of mini-tournament among NBA teams that might give an otherwise hopeless team a better shot at the playoffs? A mid-season, single-elimination tournament with some sort of carrot at the end would be fun enough, I suppose, to break up the monotony of the 82-game season. Maybe you can tweak the rules and make it a 3-on-3 style, best to 21 type game or base the rosters on college alumni or by state — something unique. That would at least be different, if only for difference’s sake.
The better idea — one that probably wouldn’t happen since the NBA would have too much reputation on the line to lose — would be to style this mid-season tournament around soccer’s UEFA Champions League rather than the FA Cup. As detailed there aren’t enough other viable teams out there to make an FA Cup-style tournament work. Unlike other North American professional sports — namely baseball and football — there are enough legitimate, functional basketball teams and leagues around the world to stage a ‘Best of the Best’ type tournament. Between the Euroleague clubs, China, Australia, South America and Africa you’d have enough different teams to stage an interesting competition.
Logistically this might be difficult to pull off and the NBA would have a lot at stake should its best team not win the Champions League of Basketball or whatever you’d call it. Labeling the NBA champion the “world champ” would fell even more hollow should a cross-continental club tournament exist. For the initial tournaments you’d figure the non-NBA teams would be much more motivated, trying to spring the upset.
If nothing else this idea has more potential than a simple knockout tournament in February, unless the prize of winning that tournament is very significant for the NBA team involved.