The Rockets-Lakers series reminded me that I love basketball. Indeed, the Celtics-Bulls series was exciting, but the Rockets-Lakers had something that the NBA seldom showcases—an underdog.
The Rockets knew they didn't have a chance and they didn't care. They didn't have any un-injured superstars to beguile the refs. The NBA's major sponsors had already started airing Kobe vs LeBron commercials.
Houston just tried really hard, like that old, scrappy guy at the YMCA that always flies around harassing all the "ballers" that are so concerned with looking hard that they have to act like they aren't trying.
I will certainly miss the unpredictability that haunts the immediate area of Ron Artest. But more noticeably, I miss the unpredictability of a basketball tournament in which an underdog can succeed.
Thus, I'd like to present an idea.
A recent report stated that David Stern refuted any possibility of decreasing the number of games played in the NBA regular season. However, it is obvious that having so many regular season games decreases the individual importance of them.
It is overtly apparent that the quality of competition increases dramatically in the playoffs, as it should in any competitive league.
But regular season NBA games seem like a different sport entirely, especially when compared side-by-side to an NCAA Basketball game in which the unpaid, unsatiated athletes energize the competition with incomparable effort.
Baseball's regular season, for example, seems almost completely meaningless because there are so many games; yet every NFL game is extremely important, and a huge event for fans.
I suggest that, rather than decrease the number of NBA regular season games, we make a handful of them significantly more meaningful. Rather than schedule all 2,460 games in advance, leave about 60 of them unscheduled.
Invite two top teams from international leagues, and set up a 32-team, single-elimination tournament—games which will count as regular season games.
This could be scheduled to happen at mid-season, right before the all-star break. Teams can be seeded based on current record, prior year draft order or completely randomly. Losers and teams that play international teams will be scheduled to play each other in order to make everybody's NBA game total 82 by the end of the season.
The winner gets a trophy, or gets to make a donation to a charity, or gets to play the all-star game on their home court, etc.
Other sports leagues, like Barclay's Premier League soccer in England, often play other tourneys during the course of the regular season. These tourneys serve to promote the league and the individual clubs.
The format of the NBA version could be adjusted to fit the regular season in that it can be done with fewer teams taking part. Or it perhaps can be done with fewer NBA teams and more international teams invited.
Either way, the bracket madness is a goldmine that the NBA could easily tap into.
The fans will love it because of the opportunity to fill out brackets and, since its single elimination, small market teams might have a fighting chance. Even the Clippers could win it sometime!
It would boost fan interest for teams that are rebuilding, which is always about a quarter of the league. Additionally, 60-some odd games—that would otherwise be lethargic regular-season walk-throughs—would be played with the same passion and intensity as March Madness or the NBA Playoffs.
Most importantly, a sport that is historically embedded with legendary underdog stories like Hoosiers will have a competition apt for such anomalies at its highest level.