Why New NBA Finals Format Is the Right Move for the Future of the Association

Dan FavaleFeatured ColumnistSeptember 30, 2013

MIAMI, FL - JUNE 20:  Dwyane Wade #3, LeBron James #6, Chris Bosh #1, Norris Cole #30 and Shane Battier #31 of the Miami Heat celebrate after defeating the San Antonio Spurs 95-88 to win Game Seven of the 2013 NBA Finals at AmericanAirlines Arena on June 20, 2013 in Miami, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Almost 30 years later, the NBA is getting it right.

Sources told the Boston Herald's Steve Bulpett that the NBA's Competition Committee voted unanimously for the NBA Finals to return to the previous 2-2-1-1-1 format. If approved by the owners, the change will take effect in time for the 2014 Finals.

The league has been using a 2-3-2 format since 1985. Commissioner David Stern endorsed the change after the Los Angeles Lakers-Boston Celtics Finals matchup, according to ESPN's Brian Windhorst, the thought process being a 2-2-1-1-1 format made for excessive travel.

Switching back, however, is the right move both now and for the future. There was always something inherently off about the 2-3-2 structure; the original layout is much better.

Especially now.



Jun 3, 2013; Miami, FL, USA; Miami Heat small forward LeBron James (6) hugs Indiana Pacers point guard George Hill (3) after game 7 of the 2013 NBA Eastern Conference Finals at American Airlines Arena. Miami Heat defeated the Indiana Pacers 99-76 to win t
Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

There's really no creative way for me to pose this: Why are the NBA Finals different from any other playoff series?

I get that they're more important because the stakes are higher, but they're still a part of the postseason. Every other round uses the 2-2-1-1-1 format, the Finals should be no different.

Changing up the most important series of the season is fine. But the NBA should find other, more creative ways to do it.

Ask that players where different color socks on either leg. Institute a "Casual Game 4," in which coaches wear skinny jeans and sandals instead of suits. Implement a new rule where players must wear flavored mouthguards. Do whatever—just don't stray away from the core of postseason basketball.

Stern's heart was in the right place, but 2-2-1-1-1 is just better.
Stern's heart was in the right place, but 2-2-1-1-1 is just better.Garrett Ellwood/Getty Images

Tinkering with the format on the game's biggest stage didn't make sense in 1985 and that change still doesn't make sense now. That's not even a shot at Stern, whose heart appeared to be in the right place when he backed the move almost 30 years ago.

Per the Associated Press (via NBA.com), the commissioner spearheaded the initial change because of the gloom and doom that came with travel. Presumably, he cared about the well-being of players and their ability to put on a good show. Perhaps he even felt for the beat reporters, who were and remain warriors of the skies, flying to and fro, often without sleep or adequate doses of Wheaties.

Once again, however, we come back to consistency.

Were every other series required to embrace the 2-3-2 format, and that's just how it was, maybe it would be different. But they don't. And, quite simply, the Finals shouldn't either.


Dorothy Isn't in Kansas Anymore; The NBA Isn't in 1985 Either

BOSTON - DECEMBER 6: Larry Bird #33 of the Boston Celtics dives on the floor against the Portland Trail Blazers during a game played on December 6, 1985 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. The Portland Trailblazers defeated the Boston Celtics 1
Dick Raphael/Getty Images

This isn't 1985 anymore.

There's still some U2 and Blondie, but no music on MTV. Times have changed; travel has changed.

Windhorst put it best when he described "long commercial travel" as "tedious" back then. And the Sun Sentinel's Ira Winderman did an outstanding job outlining what the NBA was like 25 years ago:

The year was 1988. The Heat, then an expansion team, were flying into Salt Lake City, at a time when NBA teams still flew commercial.

In the bowels of coach, somewhere over the heartland, the first-year beat writer slipped off his shoes.

As the plane descended, Billy Thompson, the former Los Angeles Lakers championship forward, sat at the front of the first-class cabin swinging a pair of black loafers in the aisle, grinning. Teammates turned back and smiled, as well.

Shoeless is not the way to go in the Salt Lake airport in December.

Circling on a baggage carousel minutes later were a lone pair of shoes, as out of place as the strikingly tall men standing, smiling a few feet away.

NBA teams don't fly commercial anymore. They aren't standing by the baggage carousel with reporters and us common folk. They sit comfortably on private jets, legs outstretched in seats that rival the size of your living room couch.

Players tweet from 30,000-plus feet in the air, all the while munching on lavish, Thanksgiving-esque dinner spreads.

They're allowed to get up and use the intercom to poke fun at Kobe Bryant.

They're more comfortable in general, seated and fed like kings with more than enough room to relax and sleep if need be.

And while I can appreciate the rigorous schedule they must follow all season long, my heart goes out more to the beat writers forced to endure multi-hour flights—sans the excessively cushioned thrones and fine cuisine—than it does to the players who fly everywhere and anywhere in comfort and style.


Hooray, Home-Court Advantage Means More

Few have done what the Heat did in 2013.
Few have done what the Heat did in 2013.Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Only the NBA penalizes higher-seeded teams with championships on the line.

There will be those who maintain the 2-3-2 format does nothing to hurt the "favorite's" home-court advantage. To some degree, they could be right. I'm not about to crucify them anyway.

But the facts suggest otherwise.

One loss at home in the opening two games always shifts home-court advantage. For almost three decades, the Finals format has bolstered that advantage.

Following a home loss, teams aren't headed elsewhere, tied 1-1, with the knowledge they can return home trailing 3-1 at worst. No, no, no. Under the 2-3-2 structure, they leave their arena unsure if they'll play another game there at all. 

If the NBA wasn't so quick to emphasize the importance of home-court advantage, it wouldn't matter. Franchises don't put their starters in harms way after clinching playoff berths, or even divisions, for no reason, though.

They want that higher seed, that better record. That opportunity to play more games at home than their opponent.

The current format can put the higher seed at a steeper disadvantage than they should be.
The current format can put the higher seed at a steeper disadvantage than they should be.Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Yet, in the Finals, that can mean nothing. Teams must win their first two games at home just to ensure they come home again. How is that fair? Even if they win the first two games, they have to play three straight away from home. How is that fair?

Trailing 3-2 to the San Antonio Spurs, the Miami Heat headed home where they had to win two straight games to steal the series. LeBron and friends did just that, which is great. But per Windhorst, that's only the fourth time a team has won Games 6 and 7 of the Finals in 29 years.

Home-court advantage is supposed to mean something. The NBA wants it to means something. There wouldn't be methods to seeding if it didn't.

Returning to a 2-2-1-1-1 format puts the advantage back in "home-court advantage." It ensures there will never be a point where the "underdog" plays more home games than the higher seed, no matter the outcome.

Which is just how it should be.


Game 7s Make It Rain

Game 7 sells.
Game 7 sells.Jesse D. Garrabrant/Getty Images

Game 7. Money. The two go hand in hand like hands-held, lips-locked, star-gaze lovers. Or, for you food aficionados, double-cream filling and Oreos.

The NBA can sell Game 7 to everyone. It's the equivalent of convincing me to hug Blake Lively: it's not difficult. The suspense, the drama, the intrigue—it's all there in Game 7. And nothing sells better than a Game 7 in the freaking Finals.

Think back to June 2013, when the Heat-Spurs series reached Game 7. It was glorious. LeBron and the Heatles searching for a second straight title against the dynastic Spurs and a Big Three looking for their fourth championship together. It doesn't get any better than that.

More importantly, it doesn't get any more profitable than that.

On the day of Game 7, Forbes reported that the average standing room ticket price was $420 on the secondary market. Standing room only. You could purchase a 32-inch, high-definition, bargain-brand television for that kind of money.

But wait, it gets better.

Forbes said the average ticket price overall was $1,537.19 the morning of the game. I could have personally paid my mortgage and still had enough money left over to host a modestly attended Game 7 bash at said home for the same amount.

NBA-1, Bank Accounts Everywhere-0.

Game 7 also drew in 26.3 million viewers, according to Richard Sandomir of the New York Times, the second most to watch an NBA game on ABC ever.

In a day and age where travel can be a luxurious experience for the players, and the league prides itself on balance (see the CBA) and dollar signs, this switch is a no-brainer.

Teams not named the Chicago Bulls (relax, I'm kidding) are better at home. That's a fact. Last year, no organization in the NBA had a better record on the road than they did at home. Whenever anyone played at home—even the Charlotte Bobcats—they had a better chance of winning. 

Reverting to the 2-2-1-1-1 blueprint puts Game 6 in the lower-seeded faction's house, making a lucrative Game 7 more likely. Making a situation similar to the one in 2013 more likely.

Making the NBA a winner no matter what happens thereafter.