Like most of America, I've been consumed by the epic NBA Finals series between the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs. As an outsider, the regular season can feel like a never-ending glut of half-baked games with no real consequence, but the basketball playoffs are vital viewing.
I feel the same about Major League Baseball. In the midst of the daily grind, who cares if the Yankees get mugged 13-0 by a losing team played blindfolded? The real fans do, of course, but for dippers-in like me, the season doesn't start until the elimination matchups roll round.
Then you've got me. And it's not just because individual games start to matter.
Where the real intrigue comes into the postseason for basketball, baseball and hockey in the U.S. is the expanded nature of the competition. Sporting battles are waged not in a desperate evening but over an evolving series in which the narrative can shift on a game-by-game basis.
Within reason, anything can happen in a one-off game. Win a seven-game series, and the strong likelihood is you deserved to advance.
The Heat won one of the great sporting battles on Tuesday night, denying the Spurs in Game 6 thanks to a bulldozing, LeBron James-inspired fightback. They won the battle alright, but the war wages on into Game 7.
The final chapter will be written in Miami Thursday night, with its pretext as dense and enthralling as you could possibly imagine. Two teams have gone at it for six straight games, probing at each others' weaknesses and attempting to get the most of their match-winners when it really matters.
Both have landed blows and been dealt them, with the series swinging one way and then the other—twice violently in big wins for either team. Both now know each other as intimately as you could want to know an opponent in sports.
For those reasons, Game 7 of this series could be classed as the ultimate sporting climax. A season rests on the culmination and the culmination has been building since the two teams first squared up on June 6 in Miami.
Watching this series has got me thinking. It's probably not practical or realistic, due to fixtures congestion and the demands on players these days, but what if one of football's major competitions took a similar route in deciding its champion.
Imagine if Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund had played not just once but a best-of-seven series to decide which team would be crowned kings of Europe this season. Imagine the tension that would have been built and the storylines that would have developed.
The fans would benefit, and not just because they would get to watch their teams go for trophies in their own stadium.
They'd also get to see their best players express themselves. No longer would a team's fate be at the whim of 90 frantic minutes, thus freeing players to take risks and their coaches to embolden their tactics. Things would get tighter as a conclusion neared, but by then, we'd be so immersed that we wouldn't care what we were watching.
It wouldn't be for everybody's taste, but a series like that would certainly deny the argument that the best team lost—as will always be said of Bayern Munich's defeat to Chelsea in 2012.
Bayern could have answered their opening defeat in a seven-game series. Had they gone on to win 4-1, their point would have been made and their status as Europe's premier team left beyond dispute. Had Chelsea returned to win the next three games and taken the series 4-0 themselves, the doubters would have been forever silenced.
Of course, there's something to be said for shock value. Perhaps part of football's charm is the fact that most teams (perhaps not Tahiti) have a chance of beating whomever they come up against. Take that into a final context, and you're handed the very real possibility of a day in the sun for an underdog.
Just last season, Wigan outplayed Manchester City to win the FA Cup and Atletico Madrid took the Copa del Rey from great rivals Real. As football fans, we relish those victories. Perhaps they stand as symbolic triumphs for our everyman existence and that's why we celebrate them. Perhaps we just like the element of surprise.
Maybe it's crazy to suggest changing a formula that has won over hundreds of millions and keeps us coming back season after season. But might it be worth a try just to see what happens?
The real question is whether football would ever be prepared to sacrifice the intensity of a singular showdown to get closer to guaranteed sporting justice. The answer if no, and I'm not sure I'd want to see it changed myself. But after watching the Heat and the Spurs go at it six times, I can't deny thinking the NBA has got something special going on.
Maybe a compromise might be a three-game series to decide the Champions League winner? I'm just thinking aloud here, but I'd be fascinated to hear your opinions.
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