The NBA’s Board of Governors met in New York for two days this week. Following those meetings commissioner Adam Silver answered questions from the assembled media. He was asked about the grievance between Ben Simmons and the Philadelphia 76ers over withheld salary for not playing, and said stars not playing is a problem for the league. His specific concern is:
“A trend of star players not participating in a full complement of games.”
That’s a complicated issue with no simple solution, Silver concedes. But the league’s best players do need to be available for more games.
The last three seasons have been challenging for the league. The 2019-2020 season was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic on March 11, 2020. That season resumed on July 30 and ended on Oct. 11.
The 2020-21 season began on Dec. 22, 2020, and ended on July 20, 2021. This current season began on Oct. 19, 2021.
That is three seasons over two calendar years. That’s entirely too much basketball in a condensed period of time without enough time for recovery.
Without adequate recovery injury rates increase, a point Silver was willing to concede.
“I’m not standing here saying I have a great solution,” Silver said. “Part of the issue is injuries. One of the things we have focused on at the league office and we’re spending — we had begun to spend a lot of time on pre-pandemic — are there things we can do in terms of sharing information, resources around the league to improve best practices, rehabilitation?”
The problem is the NBA regular season is entirely too long. Eighty-two games plus a pre-season, a play-in tournament, and the playoffs.
Not to mention expansion is coming at some point in the near future, which means more regular season games. Cutting the current schedule from 82 games to 58 would solve a lot of problems.
Each team would play the 29 other teams twice, home and away. Start the season on Halloween and end it in mid April. You could even add the mid-season tournament that Silver has been talking about for years. Increase the sponsor opportunities and find other ways to make up for the 23 less games in revenue.
“I also have said in the past, if we have too many games, that’s something we should look at as well,” Silver said. “It’s something, as we sit down and we’re looking at new media deals and looking at a new collective bargaining agreement, we will be studying. There wasn’t any banging of the table or anything like that. From my discussions with players, they recognize it’s an issue, too. The style of the game has changed in terms of the impact on their bodies. I think we’ve got to constantly assess and look at a marketplace going forward and say, what’s the best way to present our product and over how long a season?”
Silver is saying all the right things. Let’s see if he and the governors can come up with changes that will make the product better for fans and the players.
The NBA can no longer continue to deliver its product like this is the 1980s or 1990s. The game is far more taxing on the players due to the style of play. The game was played in close quarters well below the three point line. The game is now played well beyond the arc with bigger, faster, stronger players.
For fans there are a million other options competing for mindshare. An 82-game regular season, even for a diehard fan is too much. If you only play each team twice, you’re looking at two games every seven days per team. Fans can plan better around that. Teams can actually practice, and players can recover better.
Potentially less injuries and star players available is a win-win.