Friday, October 17, 2014

The short of it? It's just too long

And I thought I was the only one.

I thought I was the only one who thought an NBA season that outlasted the Peloponnesian Wars was, well, overdoing it. I thought I was the only one who thought going from late October to mid-June -- going more than two months past the end of college basketball -- was plain loony. I thought I was the only one who thought that, if you had a newborn at the beginning of the season who was enrolling at Harvard by the end of it, your season was probably a tad long.

Well, I'm not the only one. Turns out Dirk Nowitzki and LeBron James think 82 games is excessive, too.

Both of them spoke out on that this week -- Nowitzki lobbied for an NBA season in the mid-60-game range, an amazingly sound suggestion -- and hear, hear. It's heartening to learn that people who are actually invested in the NBA product understand that the quality of the product is being hurt by the sheer eon-like sprawl of the 82-game season.

More is not always more, we all know that, but the NBA continues to cling to the fiction that it is. An 82-game regular season that begins in late October and doesn't end until April-- and then continues with nearly two months of playoffs, in itself an absurdity -- overtaxes the American sports fan's famously abridged attention span. The NFL gets away with it because, well, it's the NFL, and it only plays three days a week. But the NBA?

Whole other deal. There are six months of games played virtually every night of the week, all to eliminate fewer than half the teams. This is completely ridiculous to anyone who doesn't live in the NBA bubble, or (like ESPN and other sports broadcast entities) draws sustenance from it. Which is why it was so breathtaking to hear Dirk and LeBron -- two dedicated bubble-dwellers -- point out what's so obvious to the rest of us.

Here's the thing: An 82-game season actually hurts the NBA in the long term, because the very number of games dilutes the importance of any single game. I can't think of a single NBA game before the end of the year that I would tune into because, you know, it might have an impact on something. Every one of those games might as well be an exhibition, because they have no bearing on anything when the scramble for playoff spots doesn't  begin for at least three months.

Now let's think about Dirk's suggestion. A 65-game season -- if it were me, I'd cut it to 60 -- lops 17 games off a schedule that could do just as well without them. Games in October and November would still be meaningless or the next thing to it, but there might actually be a few games in late December that might be impactful.

And how much better for the NBA would that be? Its traditional package of Christmas Day games might actually have some relevance, instead of simply serving as a way to while away a few empty hours on the holiday.

No NBA owner is going to see it that way, of course. All they're going to see is the lost revenue from 20-25 fewer games.

More shortsightedness, frankly. And therein lies the irony.

In a league whose season stretches through all four seasons of the year, wouldn't you think someone would take the long view?


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