The 2014 FIBA World Cup just confirmed what we've already known for years now: Basketball tournaments are fantastic.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is also of this same line of thinking, and that's one of the reasons why he floated out the idea of a midseason tournament back in July. The proposal is only at the competition committee stage right now, but we could be just a few years away from one of the most innovative ideas the league has seen in years.
Logistically, it wouldn't be all that difficult to coordinate. All 30 teams would participate and, in theory, the NBA could round out the field with two Select teams made up of stars from the NBA Development League. Each team would be "seeded" based on their regular season record - the D-League teams would get the lowest seeds - and placed into evenly-matched groups of four in advance of pool play.
From that point, the tournament would proceed just as in the FIFA World Cup where the top two teams in each group are granted entry into the Round of 16. But while the plan for the actual basketball action is relatively simple, the blueprint to a successful (read: $ucce$ful) tournament is a bit more complex. So, as we block out our calendars for February 2018, here are five suggestions that could make the proposed NBA tournament a smash hit.
1) Hold the event in Las Vegas.
When Silver first mentioned the possibility of a tournament earlier this summer, he noted that Las Vegas would be "a terrific neutral site location" for an affair such as this.
Let's keep it real: Whenever possible, ALL neutral-site sporting events should be held in Las Vegas. Why? Because Vegas is awesome.
Sure... Chicago may be a better/more ideal location when it comes to getting to and from the proceedings, but if there's any city in the continental United States that has all of the amenities needed to host a multiple week tournament in the middle of winter (perfect weather, available hotel rooms/arenas, Carrot Top), Sin City is it.
More than anything, Las Vegas clearly has the infrastructure to handle a production of this magnitude. Between the Thomas and Mack Center, the Cox Pavilion, the Mandalay Bay Events Center, the Orleans Arena, the MGM Grand Garden Arena, and the MGM-AEG Arena (scheduled to open in 2016), scheduling games would be a breeze. And, for what it's worth, February is a rather slow period on the city's convention calendar (unless "World of Concrete 2015" is your thing), so I'm sure the state of Nevada wouldn't shy away from the prospect of tens of thousands of basketball fans descending upon Las Vegas for a couple of weeks.
2) The entire event should take no longer than two weeks to complete from start to finish.
With the exception of the NCAA Tournament and the FIFA World Cup, any tournament that lasts longer than a couple of weeks begins to lose its steam after the initial novelty wears off. So, to that point, the NBA should adopt the following schedule if and when they decide to roll out a midseason event:
Week 1, Tuesday through Friday: Pool play - each team plays one game vs. the other three teams in their group (each team would get either Wednesday or Thursday off)
Week 1, Saturday: Rest day
Week 2, Sunday: Round of 16 (4 games)
Week 2, Monday: Round of 16 (4 games)
Week 2, Tuesday: Rest day
Week 2, Wednesday: Quarterfinals
Week 2, Thursday: Semi-finals
Week 2, Friday: Rest day
Week 2, Saturday: Championship
No team would play more than seven games, and everyone would get at least five days of rest interspersed within the two weeks. By comparison, the final four teams in the FIBA World Cup have played a total of nine games in a span of 15 days.
If players/coaches/owners are worried about fatigue, perhaps there could be a rule limiting a player to no more than two games during pool play. Maybe the NBA could to temporarily adopt FIBA rules and play four, 10-minute quarters instead of the usual 48-minute game. In short, there are plenty of ways to make it work if the powers that be want it to happen.
3) Award (at least) $10 million to the winning team.
Vegas is a hell of a draw on its own, but the event needs to be incentivized to the point where the players will put in a decent amount of effort. If teams sleepwalk their way through pool play just to get an extended midseason break, the tournament experiment could potentially blow up in the league's face.
Conservatively speaking, let's create a hypothetical $15 million prize pool for the last four teams left standing. Here's how the winnings should break down:
- Champion: $10 million
- Runner-Up: $3 million
- 3rd and 4th-place teams: $1 million
Assuming that the prizes are distributed evenly into 20 shares (15 players plus coaches/assistants), each member of the winning team would pocket a cool $500,000 for less than two weeks' worth of work. Not too shabby.
Once again: A potential $15 million prize pool is probably on the lower end of estimates given the amount of money a tournament like this could ultimately generate. Remember: Since this is an entirely new event, that means entirely new streams of ticket, broadcast, sponsorship and merchandising revenue. With high-profile college football bowl sponsorships going in the $15-20 million range, there's no reason why the NBA couldn't attract a $30 million bid for the title sponsorship alone.
4) Hold the event in conjunction with the All-Star Break.
Would it be overkill? Maybe. But it could also be basketball nirvana. Think Vegas Summer League, but with basketball that's actually enjoyable to watch for an extended period of time.
It would be easy enough to hold the Rising Stars Game as well as the usual buffet of All-Star Saturday Night festivities on the night before the title game of the tournament. Taking the idea even further, there's no reason why the D-League All-Star Game couldn't be held on the Tuesday prior to the quarterfinal rounds.
Cap it off with the All-Star Game on Sunday night, and take a four-day respite before resuming the season the following weekend. Beginning this season, the NBA has already made plans for an extended All-Star break, so if the decision was made to marry both events, a midseason tournament might tack an extra two weeks onto the schedule.
5) Award the winners an actual NBA Championship Belt.
The way I see it, what's stopping Adam Silver from giving each member of the winning team an actual wrestling-style championship belt? As Rasheed Wallace taught us way back in 2004, title belts >>>>>> championship trophies.
There should be a trophy of some sort, however, and the right thing for the league to do would be to name it after former commissioner David Stern. But there definitely has to be a championship belt somewhere in the mix.
A midseason tournament makes too much sense not to happen: The income/exposure that an event like this would create is almost impossible to ignore. We're probably a few years away from it becoming a reality, but it's clear to see why Silver appears open to the idea of giving teams something else to play for besides the Larry O'Brien Trophy.