When Adam Silver became NBA Commissioner there was not much of a honeymoon period. He had the Donald Sterling mess on his hands. Then he had the tanking mess on his hands. He had unhappy players he had to reassure and it was clear he brought different skills to the table than David Stern who had a thing for bullying people. Thoughtful and introspective, Adam Silver is of a generation who uses their intellect, calmness and wisdom to create a legacy of inclusion and participation.
After six months on the job it is clear by the evidence that Adam Silver is not intending to be a caretaker but a thinker outside the box. All of a sudden ideas to improve the game are welcomed. As great as David Stern was as a commissioner in expanding the league into global markets, Stern also was a supporter of the status quo.
To date, Silver’s most creative idea, though it has obvious pitfalls, is one he floated at the Board of Governors meeting. In the planning and design stages is a Mid-Season Basketball Tournament to take place before the All-Star break.
A mid-season tournament has been successful in soccer. The globalization of basketball has come close to soccer in its reach on all shores. Soccer has not been tainted by a short interruption in the middle of the season, just the opposite. The tournament provides interest, revenue, fan excitement and most importantly sponsors.
For it to work in the NBA half way through the season, you have to give up on the premier stars. By the end of January they are nursing injuries, are exhausted and are trying to fight through games until they get a break. The last thing they will want to do is fly to Vegas or Barcelona or Mexico to play more games in a single elimination tournament.
But the second tier players, the ones who are not routinely splashed across ESPN on a nightly basis have financial incentive, media exposure and the desire to finally be the ‘stars’ of their teams. These are the players who are not selected for the All-Star game. Players like Jeremy Lin and Mike Conley and Harrison Barnes. And for the International team players like Goran Dragic, Nic Batum and Stephen Adams.
How could it work?
The players are made available by their NBA teams and cannot be an All-Star. They have to be an active player who has gone at least 30 days without injury. They have to be 26 years old or younger. They will have gotten minutes and some playing time during the season. The players are put into a pool and are selected by the coaches.
There are eight teams, (4) representing the Americas and (4) representing International (Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa). There are eight coaches who are NBA Hall of Fame players: Oscar Robertson, Bob Cousy, James Worthy, etc.
The games are played on a neutral site, a single elimination game. Quarterfinal game, Semifinal game and Championship game which encompass a week, played every other day with FIBA rules. At the end of the week, a team representing the Americas plays a team representing International. Once a champion has been decided, it is the NBA All-Star game.
The week of the tournament the rest of the NBA is off, no other games are played. This privilege allows stars who log heavy minutes during the season to get a break and rest. The rookies give their bodies time to adjust to the schedule and in many cases heal. Everyone else gets a mini-vacation, NBA coaches included.
There are obvious dangers, primarily injuries. What happened to Paul George reintroduced us to what is possible with these kind of athletes in a game whose only purpose is patriotic pride. What if a player on a contending team gets hurt? How is that team compensated? What are the salary cap ramifications?
Even if it is a novelty that doesn’t survive over time, a mid-season tournament can be a shot in the arm in the dog days of February. Halfway through a grueling season NBA games seem to drag on and players lose interest and fans want to skip forward to the playoffs or the lottery. It is an adventurous idea to stop all the games at once and insert something that has never been done before, to truly be different.
Different, in a good way, is what Adam Silver’s tenure has become.