Just recently, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver once again proved that he has a finger on the pulse of both his players and fans when he said the league was “looking at” making several changes to the rigorous 82-game regular season. It would be a bold move – the NBA has had this format for over half a century, and the craziest part? No one really knows why.
Some historical perspective
From the league’s inception in 1946 and right up to the 1952-1953 season, teams played sixty something games. Starting with the 1953-1954 season, that number was upped to 72. Another gradual rise followed until the 1960s, when things began to get out of hand. In 1962 season, teams played 80 games. Five years later, another game was added for a total of 81, and the following season it was ticked by one more to the current total, 82 games.
Today, 52 years later, the NBA still has an 82-game season. To put things into perspective, let’s compare the 1967-1968 season with the recently concluded 2018-2019 one. In 1968, the NBA expanded to 12 teams, when the Seattle SuperSonics and the San Diego Rockets expansion teams joined the league. Most of the teams were concentrated either on the East or on the West Coast, and there was no three-point line.
Today the NBA has 30 teams, but the same number of games. Teams play an average of 3.5 games a week, which often include back to back games played on successive evenings.
Why it needs to go
We can actually think of several reasons why the 82-game format needs to go the way of the dodo. Firstly, and perhaps most critically, this format almost completely voids the regular season of any real drama or importance. Did your favorite team just get blown out on the road? No matter, they’ll be playing again tomorrow or the day after, and about 80 more times. Nothing, except for maybe the last few games before the playoffs begin, is ever crucial.
Secondly, and no less importantly, the wear and tear on players’ bodies is almost unfathomable. Jetting from New York to Los Angeles and then to Chicago in less than a week’s time puts the human body under stress it wasn’t meant to endure. Players get injured more often, or just underperform because they’re exhausted.
This leads teams to rest their star players – as the Lakers did with LeBron James this past season – in the hope of having them fresh for the playoffs. This decision, understandable though it is, further makes the regular season even more boring, as we watch one team’s scrubs and bench warmers battle the other team’s second stringers. Riveting television it is not.
Less is more
Simply put, the NBA needs to shorten its regular season considerably, and it needs to do so now. We’d actually go one step further, and say that certain teams should probably be given the ax altogether (we’re looking at you, Charlotte), but baby steps.
As with many things in life, sports follow the same basic rule of less is more. Take a look at the NCAA March Madness tournament, which is made up of only 67 games, or the NFL regular season, which has just 16 games! Sixteen games, while the NFL actually has two more teams than the NBA does. Although, to be fair, football is a far more physically punishing sport.
Imagine an NBA schedule with 10 or 15 less games. Imagine regular season games that suddenly mean something. The stakes are raised, players are starting to play with a chip on their shoulder.
Make the NBA great again
Longtime NBA fans remember the 1998-1999 season, which only had 50 games due to the players’ lockout. Though made possible by necessity and not choice, that season had a certain urgency to it, when teams knew they had an incredibly small margin of error. Now, we’re not saying to cut 30 games off the schedule, but if the NBA was a choice slab of meat, it had a lot of fat that could be trimmed.
The players know it. Adam Silver knows it. And you know it. Make it happen, and make the world’s best basketball league great again.