Do NBA Division Titles Matter?

Andrew A. McNeillCorrespondent IApril 15, 2009

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As I flipped back and forth between the Spurs-Hornets and Rockets-Mavericks games on Wednesday night, hopefully the Spurs would win and Rockets would lose to send the Southwest Division title to San Antonio, it dawned on me: Do divisions matter anymore?

It would be nice to see the Spurs win their division, but I can't help but think a division championship is merely a way for teams who can't win the big one to hang a banner from the rafters. And the Spurs have four big ones, and banners to go with them.

Some say travel is the purpose of divisions. Divisions are divided into teams in the same region. Divisions cut down on travel costs and takes less of a toll on players' bodies during the season.

But teams fly chartered jets with extreme luxury, some modified to fit seven-footers comfortably, and stay in nice hotels. I believe the travel takes a toll on players as the season goes on, but I don't think there's much of a difference between the Knicks flying to Toronto for a division game or Oklahoma City for a inter-conference game.

Others would argue the division system creates rivalries. Although, geographic location does create some rivalries, I myself love to see the Spurs beat the Rockets and Mavericks, nothing beats the rivalries created by competitive play.

I wouldn't enjoy seeing the Spurs beat the Mavericks as much if it wasn't for the 2006 Western Conference Finals. And nothing makes me happier than seeing the Spurs beat the Los Angeles Lakers after numerous playoff battles in the last decade.

The league's divisions also create a pointless system where teams who win their division are automatically given the top three seeds in their conference. There is no reason to award Team A a higher playoff seed than Team B, which has a better record, just because Team A wins its division and Team B doesn't.

Try explaining to someone who doesn't follow sports closely why a team with a better record than a division winner gets a worse playoff matchup and watch their confusion.

The better idea would be to do away with divisions and keep the two conferences. The eight teams in each conference with the best records make the playoffs. It would be a system that is easy to follow and wouldn't take a lot of justification, similar to the league setups in European soccer.

When we look back at the NBA's legendary players, do we count how many times they won their division? Along with Bill Russell's 11 NBA Championships, do we list the number of division titles? How about with Jordan's six NBA titles?

Better yet, do we say "yeah, Charles Barkley never won an NBA title, but he did win three division titles in his career?"