Dirk Nowitzki, lifelong Dallas Maverick and certain Hall of Famer, raised some eyebrows when he suggested that the NBA didn’t “need 82 games to determine the best eight in each conference,” even though he said it as more of a pipe dream, armed with the knowledge that “every missed game means missed money for both parties, for the league, for the owners, for the players.” Nowitzki was responding to the idea of a 44-minute game, something the league is toying with at the moment. And Dirk’s not alone, with Miami Heat coach Eric Spoelstra and former Miami Heat MVP LeBron James both letting it be known that the length of the games wasn’t the problem, so much as it was the number of the games in a season.
We’re on the record saying that 44-minute game is a bad idea, and an obvious attempt to please the television companies that just dished out massive amounts of money for the right to broadcast these games — they aren’t going to slash advertising timeouts in order to speed up the games, for example — but a shortened season might not be the worst thing in the world. Sharpen your pitchforks if you must, but keep them down for a second. The biggest problem is one of continuity — after all, the 82-game season is part of what makes the NBA the NBA, and how can a scoring title, for example, be compared when it’s simply over 66, or 62, or however many games, rather than the 82 that everyone else had measured up to (lockout seasons excepted)?
Beyond that, though, the argument for 82 games seems to rest exclusively on tradition, which isn’t the greatest starting point for evaluating anything on its own merits. Even further, the number isn’t really the biggest problem for the athletes, so much as it is the scheduling: the dreaded back-to-back and its more nefarious siblings, the three in a row, and the four-in-five, where a team plays four games in five nights. The same way Thursday Night football games are always kind of awful because no one’s had enough rest or enough prep time, the fast pace of the NBA season can lead to a substandard product, which is something everyone wants to avoid.
One of the silver linings of the last lockout, or, rather, the resolution of the last lockout, was having the NBA season start on Christmas Day 2012. The voices of approval were unanimous, not only because, you know, it was finally over and we were all able to watch basketball again, but also because a Christmas starting date was a great way to differentiate the league from any other sports league in the country. Consider: The regular season starts at the end of October, which is not only right in the middle of the MLB’s postseason, but smack dab in the center of the NFL’s season. For the basketball faithful, this isn’t a problem, but for more casual fans it’s easy for the league to get lost in all the noise. A Christmas opener alleviates a lot of that.
No one is under any illusions, though — the league won’t drop from 82 games because not only is it fewer gate receipts and other revenue opportunities, it’s less basketball, which means there’s less basketball to be broadcast, which means that their massive television deal would be even more of a steal than it already is. Which is not going to help the 66-game season gain any headway with the people providing the paychecks. But it would definitely lead to a better slate of regular season games, particularly because those last 16 games don’t do much to change the playoff picture.