The 82-game length of the NBA season has been a topic of conversation over the last couple of years thanks to the discourse surrounding load management and player fatigue. Although the length of the season is nothing new, the modern style of basketball combined with concerns over how the lingering effects of fatigue and physical strain make the discussion louder and louder.
Why 82 games?
A look at any franchise’s history shows how sporadic initial scheduling was. When the NBA premiered as the BAA, the seasons were 60 games long. With just a handful of teams to compete, the teams still played each other many times every season.
As the league grew, however, there were more opponents to play. Unlike baseball and football, NBA teams play all 29 other teams every season regardless of the schedule, and with 30 teams, it requires a long schedule to do so.
Seasons fluctuated several times, going from 60 to 72 over the next decade. With the league expanding with the NBA’s popularity, the league eventually arrived at the 80 game season in the early sixties before settling on 82 games in 1967.
Even though the league is 250% bigger, this 82 game number has stuck around for over 50 years. The league has always adjusted the math between teams to make sure that it works in a way that is fair to everyone, but as the game evolves and becomes more strenuous, it might be time to start looking at a shortened season.
The case for an 82 game NBA season
The NBA allows every team to come together and play at least two times with an 82-game schedule. In times like the days of LeBron James and Kobe Bryant, this allows fans to see two greats compete together every year without having to meet in the playoffs or finals to do so. In a star-driven league, this is ideal.
Furthermore, the league makes money on a game-by-game basis. With arenas packing thousands of people in 41 times a year, the teams are making good revenue every time a team hits the floor.
Taking this away, according to Kevin Arnovitz, would mean taking away money that goes into the pocket of the league and the owners, and an already expensive product might grow even more expensive with a shortened year.
The case against the 82 game NBA season
Players are expected to go out there and perform for anywhere from six months to eight months, depending on their team’s playoff success. For players like LeBron James, every four years could mean an entire season and change, given how often he appeared in the Finals. This also means that the players are competing in 100 games by the time they get some rest.
Fans are used to seeing players who make it two, three, or four rounds into the NBA Playoffs tire out, meaning that the product is not as good. There are exceptions, such as the 2016 NBA Finals, but there are also years like 2019, where several players eventually succumbed to injury where strain may or may not have had something to do with it.
Furthermore, shortening the season means that every game holds more weight. Teams who are good have gotten reputations for phoning it in. While nothing can stop this outright, making each game bear more weight means that fewer games can be viewed as throwaway games.
Which side is right?
The season length is arbitrary. Some view the players’ health and safety as the ultimate reason to shorten the season, while others see the fan experience as a reason to keep it long.
From 44 game solutions to 72, no number will be objectively right, but in a league where some of the biggest names are hurt or managing loads, it would be smart for the league to compromise and preserve its product in one way or another.
In the meantime, this 82-game NBA season will wrap up in April, with the playoffs starting on April 18 and going on until June.