Can The NBA In-Season Tournament Save Sputtering Regular-Season Fan Interest?

The much talked about NBA in-season tournament is finally here and will debut during the 2023-24 season. NBA commissioner Adam Silver unveiled the format and procedures last week in Las Vegas. Silver, a fan of European football, has long coveted the idea of an event like this with the hopes of drawing more fan interest to the game. Will this latest innovation help boost a regular season that has been struggling for years?

A Long Time Coming

“This is a concept that has been rumbling around the league office for around 15 years,” Silver said on a special episode of “NBA Today” from “NBA Con” as part of the league’s annual gathering in Las Vegas. “We thought what a perfect opportunity for a global league like the NBA, and it’s a perfect fit for our game. New traditions take time. But, all throughout sports, we are seeing new innovations, and now is the time for this NBA in-season tournament.”

Silver is correct. New traditions will take time to gain a foothold. But let’s remember NBA superstar LeBron James blasted the league in 2021 for coming up with a new playoff format, including the play-in tournament.

“Whoever came up with that s— needs to be fired,” James said at the time.

Fast forward to the 2023 postseason and which team was one of the biggest beneficiaries of the playin tournament? James’ Los Angeles Lakers.

Innovate Or Die

Sadly, it’s human nature to reject the unfamiliar. But fans of European football who also like the NBA will be fine with an in-season tournament. It gives teams another goal to shot for. Of course the NBA championship will still mean the most, just like the Champions League title does in Europe. But finishing the season with a trophy means something too.

In its first couple iterations the NBA Cup champion will not feel so important, but as the players take it seriously and the potential for greater cash incentives occur, you’ll see more interest. Once the players say it has meaning the fans will as well.

This tournament has the potential to truly transform the league, if they remain committed to iteratIng. Shortening the entire regular season and adding an international component against other leagues to make it a true global championship would be monumental. That’s a pie-in-the-sky fantasy, but sports viewing has changed, and the leagues that keep pace will thrive.

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