Basketball is a winter sport.
I’m pretty sure exactly none of you would disagree with that statement. It’s officially categorized that way at high schools and colleges across the nation. But why? Why is it considered a winter sport and why don’t we challenge that assumption?
The first part is easy. Basketball is a winter sport because James Naismith invented it to be one. Basketball’s invention came about because Naismith wanted something to bridge the gap between football and baseball, giving his students a way to stay active when the weather was terrible.
Actually, that’s the reason I first started watching basketball: I needed something to bridge the dead period in February and March between the NFL and MLB.
Anyway, it’s an accepted fact now that basketball season starts — in non-lockout years, anyway — in October and goes through June, with the draft coming shortly after the end of the playoffs. Free agency starts in early July and then August and September are when us fans sit around and obsess over what happened in July.
But why October? Why does the season start around Halloween? Why not literally any other time?
I don’t have an answer for the first two questions. But remember when the season started on Christmas Day last year? Aside from the interminable waiting because of the lockout, wasn’t that great?
The NBA is in a weird position. They start the season while the NFL is in full swing, and they end in the middle of MLB’s season. They also sync up with the NHL season, although as long as they’re locked out, that’s not really an issue.
But why not separate themselves a little more? Let’s suppose that instead of approaching the one-month mark of the season, this coming week contained opening day. The regular season pinnacle of the NFL season is Thanksgiving and Thanksgiving weekend. Let them have that, then jump in immediately after, get some momentum going and then hit Christmas — the point at which the casual fan starts caring about the NBA anyway — at the one-month mark.
Everything else just shifts back a month. I wouldn’t be against knocking out seven games or so, getting us down to the 70-75 game range, but the timing of the season works as is, more or less.
Think about some of the advantages here. Rather than having All-Star Weekend coming close on the heels of the Super Bowl and whatnot, and around the point where pitchers and catchers report to spring training, it would now fall in March. In fact, if you move it up slightly — such that it falls at the actual halfway point of the season — All-Star Weekend would fall at the beginning of March. You know what’s happening in early March? Not a whole lot. The first weekend in March is the last weekend of the NCAA basketball regular season, so there’s no significant conflict there.
Another nice point is that the start of the playoffs is now moved back far enough that it’s in mid-May, rather than mid-April. This takes it out of the first month of baseball season, when people are still interested and before the slog of the season sets in. As such, the Finals would fall in the beginning of July, not June, which eliminates any conflict from the NHL playoffs.
The attentive reader will notice that a seven-game series starting in early July would conflict with the MLB All-Star Game. That’s actually a good thing.
The MLB All-Star Game is getting killed in the ratings, and there is nothing at all going on in July right now. Last year’s game drew a record-low 6.8 rating and 10.9 million viewers. The 2012 NBA Finals drew an average 10.1 rating over five games. You’ll notice that 10.1 is much larger than 6.8.
The NBA is already killing MLB in TV ratings. But there’s something to be said for taking a rival’s premiere event and thrashing it head to head in ratings. Again, chopping out some games in the regular season and trying to finish up before then is an option, but this would work fine.And the draft, held later in the month, would have absolutely no competition whatsoever, and free agency would dominate the news cycle in August, probably even moreso than it already does in July. The NBA then would disappear in time for the start of college football and the NFL, returning in November for the start of training camp and preseason.
There is a legitimate concern to be brought up in terms of the Olympics, as starting the Finals in July would make any players playing in both the Finals and the Olympics either have to choose between the two or be forced into a quick turnaround to do both.
First off, the Olympics only take place once every four years, so for the other three this is a non-issue. Yes, there are the World Basketball Championships to consider, but it would be easier to simply say that if a player is in the Finals, they can’t play in the WBC. The Olympics, being more prestigious, would be a bigger draw and players would be more likely to object if they were told they couldn’t play.
Now, if the rumblings of the NBA restricting international play to players under 23 are true — and I would guess they’re not — then it becomes much easier to deal with. There’s a smaller pool of players, making it less likely for potential Olympic team players to be in the Finals. Rather than losing Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, JamesHarden, LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh from this year’s team because they played in the Finals — and admittedly, Wade and Bosh didn’t play anyway because of injury — only Durant, Westbrook and Harden would have to make the decision. And because the Thunder are such an anomaly in terms of their age, having three star players under 23 on a given team is highly unlikely.
And again, if you chop out a few games and shorten the season slightly, this isn’t an issue anyway. So that would be easy.
Now, it’s important to note that there is precisely zero chance that the NBA will do this. Not because they’re particularly attached to the current schedule, but that the NBA is a very large organization and thus features a lot of inertia. They still haven’t changed the Finals from the 2-3-2 format, so there’s no reason to think they’d be on board with changing the entire structure of the season.