By Joshua M Hicks (@jhicks042)
Numerous reports have come out this week stating that the NBA is planning to start its upcoming season in the area of Christmas Day, a slightly truncated season that would likely max out at 72 games with no bubble plans in sight.
If the National Basketball Players Association was to agree to those terms, which it could as early as today, this would be one of the best decisions the league could make from a player and fans perspective.
The NBA is known to be a sport that always struggled to gain constant viewership over the course of its season, largely because the season is so long. Starting in October/November and carrying out all the way through the entire spring, the NBA finds itself in constant competition for eyeballs, with the average fan watching fighting between college football and the NFL during the first half of the NBA season and with college basketball’s March Madness taking a lot of the air (and some of the league’s best analysts from Turner) just as the pros are beginning to play real meaningful games entering the playoff stretch.
Just as the beginning of the bubble season in late summer gave the NBA pretty much an uncontested platform for fans thirsty for real action after the pandemic shutdown, having a Christmas Day start while both the NFL and CFB seasons are each in pre-playoff down spots gives fans a chance to hold up basketball once again as the prime family sport to watch during the holidays.
Pros and Cons of a Pre-Christmas Start to the Season (ESPN)
The league lost a lot of money from the shortened and adjusted ’19-20 season — COVID-19 shifted agendas and the league’s TV contracts had to be adjusted, which is something that will likely happen again for the coming season. While the NBA can’t avoid a domino-like effect impacting the ’20-21 slate, recent advances in handling the virus has allowed for increased chances in allowing a small percentage of fans to attend games next year. All these things makes starting on one of the prime holidays make a lot more sense.
From a players’ perspective, such a quick turnaround from the bubble can be seen as risky, we’re talking a snapback of three or so months of a finished season for a good section of the league’s top talent and veteran talent, increasing the chances of more wear and tear that can contribute to injury and shortening the available time on court for stars like LeBron James, Jimmy Butler and their respective finalists in the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat.
As far as the straw that stirs the NBA’s drink, LeBron’s teammate Danny Green has already gone public with a strong statement regarding his disbelief that James will be fully available for the team for the first month of the season if the league agrees to the approximate Christmas Day start.
“December 22nd is not even in my mind. I think if we start in December, most guys are going to be like, ‘I’m not going to be there,'” Green said earlier this week on The Ringer’s NBA podcast.
“If I had to guess, because we have a lot of vets on our team — it’s not like we have young guys and rookies, we probably have three or four young guys or rookies. If we’re fortunate enough to bring the same team back, we have (Ron)‘Do who’s on year 15, Dwight is in year 16, ‘Bron is year 18 and JaVale, year 17. These guys just played a whole season. ‘Bron has been in the Finals 10 years out of his 17 years, which is unbelievable mentally. It’s draining to do that.
“To have that quick of a restart, I wouldn’t expect to see him there. I wouldn’t expect to see him the first month of the season. He’ll probably be working out with us, but I just don’t expect guys to want to be there or show up willingly. It might be different in two weeks.”
However, players can benefit greatly from a season with less than the typical 82 games due to less stress on travel and the idea of more competitive games that forces stars to play on a consistent basis every night, eliminating the application of load management.
A transition like this can be an advantage for teams that will be coming into the season completely fresh due to not being invited to compete in the bubble, teams like the Chicago Bulls, Golden State Warriors, New York Knicks, etc. They will already have the rest and training experience needed for a swift NBA turnaround.
This transition also gives teams that are not looking or expected to make lots of changes, especially playoff teams that just recently played in the bubble like the Boston Celtics, Denver Nuggets, Portland Trail Blazers, etc. an edge. For the most part the chemistry of these teams will be intact and that chemistry will likely carry the team through the ups and downs of the new season’s transition.
The NBA already has the blueprint available to it on what it takes to adjust to a shortened schedule and still experience success.
From competing after the CBA lockout in 2011 in a 66-game schedule for the ’11-12 season, which itself started on Christmas Day, to the massive adjustments made in 2020, the league can use its previous experience in crisis management to map out something that more closely resembles what basketball fans have come to know and love, more so than just about any other sport when put in similar situations.
If the league accepts this format for this season today (and more importantly put to the side any extended bickering, posturing and negotiating regarding when to start up the next season), it would possibly be the last step getting the league back on track for a normal length season come 2021-22.
Also, it could truly change the trajectory of future seasons, bringing reformation while creating a new norm that can easily be acceptable, influential and flexible, a good combination for professional sports going forward.
Joshua M. Hicks is a Senior Writer for WARR Media