The NBA has long been exploring ways to maximize viewership throughout the season.
Some of these gimmicks have been more successful than others. The three point line was initially introduced by the ABA at its inception in 1967 as a marketing strategy to compete with the larger and superior NBA. When the two leagues merged in 1979, the NBA begrudgingly decided to try it out for a year and see how it impacted the game. Nearly 50 years later, and . . . yeah. It’s a whole new ballgame.
That’s not the only ABA publicity stunt that’s found its way into mainstream culture over the years. In 1976, the league’s last year of existence, money was tighter than ever, and viewership was plummeting. In a last ditch effort to try and attract fans who would not watch otherwise, the Slam Dunk Contest was born. The NBA adapted it permanently in 1984, and now it’s appointment television for millions of basketball fans around the world.
That being said, not every NBA-implemented idea has been a smash hit. Ideas that may look great on paper may come up flat in practice. Recent All-Star games have featured an ‘Elam Ending’ where teams have to hit a target score at the end of the game to be deemed the winner. That won’t be the case again moving forward, with Adam Silver announcing that the game will be restored to its original format. This means no more team captains, either. The classic East-West format is back, as it should be.
Where does that leave us? Well, after years of discussions surrounding the weariness of an 82-game regular season, Commissioner Silver delivers us his solution. The NBA In-Season Tournament begins tonight. 30 teams will be fighting it out for the supposed ultimate prize: the NBA Cup. Color me excited. Media and fan responses have been mixed at best. This is a pretty obvious gimmick, and while basketball in any capacity is fun, the fans will have to be won over to really buy into the whole idea.
30 Teams. One NBA Cup.— NBA (@NBA) October 25, 2023
The first-ever NBA In-Season Tournament tips off Friday, November 3. Watch on ESPN, TNT, NBA TV and ABC! pic.twitter.com/3nSe06UsaA
The doubters are out to play, and I understand why. This whole thing is a pretty obvious money grab. The great John Wooden said it himself. “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” Did something need to be done about the repetitiveness of the regular season? Sure. Is this the solution? Maybe. Maybe not.
Except . . . I trust Adam Silver. Completely. Look at the man’s track record. He’s been a solid commissioner with a real vision of the league, and has followed his predecessor Stern’s act wonderfully. More importantly, his orchestrated on-court publicity stunts seem to work.
The Play-In tournament was met with justified uncertainty when it first came out. Now, it’s here to stay. The Bubble was perhaps one of the most ambitious sports ideas. Ever. Looking back on it, it was one of the most surreal and well-orchestrated events ever, regardless of industry. Once again, the master of viewership got in the lab, and his newest brainchild will be on display for us all.
Tonight, when you tune in to Knicks vs. Bucks, or Warriors vs. Thunder, or any game, you’ll notice that things are a little different. The courts will be unlike anything you’ve seen before. The jerseys will be different. Players will be directly competing for a cash prize. And a new trophy. Will this end up becoming a staple of the NBA? Or will it fizzle out after one disappointing season? We’re not sure yet. But we know one thing, and so does the NBA: you’ll watch.