Why Geography Should Have No Place In Determining a Champion

Taylor SmithAnalyst IJune 15, 2009

ORLANDO, FL - JUNE 14:  Head coach Stan Van Gundy of the Orlando Magic looks down during the post game news conference after losing to the Los Angeles Lakers 99-86 in Game Five of the 2009 NBA Finals on June 14, 2009 at Amway Arena in Orlando, 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 Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Last night, the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Orlando Magic 99-86 in Game Five of the 2009 NBA Finals, earning the franchise's 15th NBA Championship.

While there were a few compelling moments throughout the five games, most were correct in assuming that this series was over before it even began. The Magic would be no match for the mighty Lakers.

Granted, the Magic had just pulled off two relatively shocking upsets in each of the two previous rounds, with a game seven win on the home floor of the defending champion Celtics, and a six-game romp of the heavily-favored Cavaliers. The consensus was that Orlando wouldn't have enough firepower to keep it up and pull off their third-consecutive massive upset.

These predictions proved true in what was ultimately a largely uncaptivating five-game series to determine the NBA's new champion. It was a disappointing conclusion to what had been one of the best postseasons in the NBA's recent history.

Fans were treated to a first-round Bulls-Celtics matchup that many call the best first-round playoff series in league history. The seven-game series featured seven overtime periods, and several memorable moments and clutch shots that eventually ended with a 4-3 series victory for Boston.

In the second round, the Lakers and Rockets collided in what had the makings of an all-out war of attrition, with the winner coming out bruised and battered, but deserving. The series' first three games featured several spats and flagrant fouls, highlighted by Derek Fisher's brutal blow to an oncoming Luis Scola, and Ron Artest getting right into Kobe Bryant's face after what Artest perceived as a flagrant elbow from Bryant to Artest's own throat.

Unfortunately, Houston center Yao Ming was lost for the series after discovering a stress fracture in his foot after game three. Houston showed unforeseen grit and resolve, but ultimately got blown out in game seven in Los Angeles.

Orlando stormed into Boston in the Conference Semifinals and pulled out an amazing performance in game seven, beating a tired and undermanned Celtics team.

We got to see Mark Cuban and Kenyon Martin duke it out through the media during the Nuggets-Mavericks series, ultimately won by Denver in five games. Family members were involved, it was great stuff.

Fans were witnesses to emerging stars like Derrick Rose, Brandon Roy, and Rajon Rondo.

We saw the man heralded as the new face of the league, LeBron James, drain a near-impossible three-pointer at the buzzer to lift his team to victory in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Unsung heroes like Chris Andersen and Trevor Ariza emerged. Lamar Odom's erratic play was even linked to his addiction to candy.

What more could we want? There was a compelling storyline everywhere we would turn.

Unfortunately, these NBA Finals didn't live up to the hype that had been generated by the previous three rounds. The Magic just didn't have enough. The Lakers had too much.

This isn't discrediting the Orlando Magic in any way, shape, or form. They absolutely deserved to be where they ended up. Defeating both the defending champions and the top-seeded team in the conference were enormous accomplishments.

The problem with the NBA (as well as the NFL, NHL, and MLB), is the system.

The NBA Finals, Super Bowl, Stanley Cup Finals, and World Series should match the two best teams in the respective leagues. It hardly makes sense for the concluding game or series to have to come down to two teams on opposite sides of the map.

For example, it can be safely assumed that the three best teams in the NBA during the 2006-07 season were the Phoenix Suns, Dallas Mavericks, and San Antonio Spurs. Phoenix and Dallas each won over 60 games each, and San Antonio won 58. The best team by record in the Eastern Conference was the Detroit Pistons, who won 53 games.

However, because the western teams play western teams and eastern teams play eastern teams until one from each conference is matched up in the Finals, we got something that once again ended in very disappointing fashion, San Antonio sweeping Cleveland in four games for the Title.

Many considered the second-round matchup between Phoenix and San Antonio to be the premier series of the entire postseason, because they were commonly believed to have been the best two teams. San Antonio obviously won it, in what was a series marred by suspensions of two key Phoenix players for leaving their bench area during a scuffle on the floor.

The East vs. West thing has got to end.  Same goes for AFC vs. NFC and American League vs. National League.

The playoff seedings for each sport should be determined by regular season records. They shouldn't just qualify for being amongst the four, or six, or eight best teams from their conference or division.

What's the worst that could happen? The NBA would wind up with 10 teams from the West and six from the East in the playoffs? The AFC West doesn't send a 9-7 San Diego team to the playoffs over an 11-5 Patriots team?

Is there any reason to keep this alive? Tradition is the only real reason that comes to mind. The best should be playing the best.

"Purists" of every sport may have an issue with changing something that has always remained the same.

There's a very real chance that by the end of this baseball season, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox will be regarded as the best two teams in the Major Leagues by record. Unfortunately, due to the setup, the two best teams wouldn't be allowed to play one another for the championship.

In the end, we'll get stuck with a scintillating ALCS, but a very disappointing World Series that will probably end up with one of the AL teams sweeping some scrub on a hot streak, like the 2007 Colorado Rockies.

"Purists" will argue that the integrity of their beloved sport will be compromised by a rule change as simple as seeding the playoffs differently, not according to geographical location or conference affiliation.

These people need to come to terms with reality and the 21st century. Plus, we're talking about re-seeding playoffs for American professional sports.

This is not particularly close to the level of altering the proceedings for the Papal election or something, although I'm sure some would like to make us believe differently.

These leagues (as well as the rest of us, as fans) deserve the highest level of competition possible to determine a champion.

The NBA would've loved that Phoenix-San Antonio matchup for its Finals a couple of years ago. How about a Canadiens-Maple Leafs Stanley Cup Final? Maybe the potential aforementioned Yankees-Red Sox World Series?

No climax to a great story occurs at the beginning, nor does it occur in the middle. Why should professional sports be any different?