From the Beginning, NBA Finals Format Flawed

Joe M.Correspondent IIJune 4, 2009

DENVER - APRIL 19:  NBA Commissioner David Stern speaks to the media prior to the tip off between the New Orleans Hornets and the Denver Nuggets in Game One of the Western Conference Quarterfinals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Pepsi Center on April 19, 2009 in Denver, Colorado. 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 Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)

Baseball, basketball, and hockey all follow best-of-seven formats in order to crown their champion at the end of a gruelling season.

Hockey, for all its faults, uses the correct 2-2-1-1-1 format where each team plays two home games and the rest of the series alternates sites with the higher seed (favored team) getting a pivotal Game Seven on its home ice.

Baseball and the NBA do not follow this pattern, instead adopting the more travel conscious 2-3-2 format, where a team gets the first two games followed by the opponent getting three straight home games and the original team getting the final two at home, if necessary.

In a league that features Bud Selig and all his controversy over the years, are we really surprised of this format?

I realize that this system has been around since 1924, but this system continues to stay around and has been in fact "improved" with its winner-take-all "All Star Game, This Time It Counts!" fest where the winning league gets home field and thus, a direct advantage in the World Series.

Not to worry though, a few more years of the American League winning this game, coupled with a likely abundance of American League teams winning the World Series each year as a result, and change will come, but it will take time.

While the NBA correctly uses the more fair 2-2-1-1-1 system in each round prior to the NBA Finals, it incorrectly strays away from a good thing when the sport needs it most.

While I already referenced this in another article, its saddening and shocking statistic still holds true.

Consider that 26 of the past 28 champions have all come from the same six markets. In the past 20 years there basically have been total dynasties and no real upsets, save for the 2006 NBA Finals when party crashers Miami Heat knocked off the Dallas Mavericks on their way to a surprising title and the 1982-83 Philadelphia '76ers.

Other than that, it's basically been six teams to rule the past three decades:

LA Lakers: '81, '85, '86, '88, '00, '01, '02

Boston Celtics: '80, '84, '86, '08

Detroit Pistons: '89, '90, '04

Chicago Bulls: '91, '92, '93, '96, '97, '98

San Antonio Spurs: '99, '03, '05, '07

Houston Rockets: '94, '95

That's it.

Close but not close enough

Sure we've seen a lot of feel good stories: the 1992 Portland Trail Blazers, 1993 Phoenix Suns, 1994 New York Knicks, 1995 Orlando Magic, 1996 Seattle Sonics, 1997 and 1998 Utah Jazz, 2000 Indiana Pacers, 2001 Philadelphia '76ers, the 2002-2003 New Jersey Nets, and 2007 Cleveland Cavilers all tried to bring the Championship home to a new market, but in each case all of them failed.

All of them lost to one of these six markets and the 2009 Orlando Magic will be no different should they follow this trend, this is why they must break the jinx and win the title for the good of the NBA, for the good of variety.

All of these teams were blocked by the success and eventual dynasty of one of the above teams in the six cities. All those good Reggie Miller/Rik Smits/Jalen Rose/Antonio Davis-led Pacers teams were shut out of a title because of either Michael Jordan or the Shaq and Kobe led Lakers (Phil Jackson had a key role in both).

Blocked from a title

Patrick Ewing never got a title because he too ran into either the Michel Jordan/Phil Jackson Chicago buzzsaw or the newest dynasty, the Spurs. Charles Barkey never got a title because he too was blocked by Jordan and the Bulls.

Same for Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton, and George Karl in Seattle; same for Karl Malone, John Stockton, and Jerry Sloan in Utah; and the same for Jason Kidd and Lawrence Frank in New Jersey during their mini-run who similarly fell victim to the Lakers and Spurs, respectively.

Critics will argue that the so-called lesser teams from small, non-traditional, under-represented markets like Orlando, Indiana, Seattle, and Utah show that it is still possible to at least make it and that they just need to try harder. While not winning, at least they are making it, and someone is bound to break through sooner than later.

But what good does it do should they lose?

The Magic will be in the record books as having played in this series, but what good does it do if Jackson, Kobe, and the Lakers bring yet another title to the NBA's second biggest market, one, that with fifteen overall trophies and now thirty appearances, is clearly over-saturated with success and coverage?

They will be just another statistic.

Flawed playoff structure

Now the meat of the article. Tonight when the Magic travel across the country to Los Angeles, they are basically forced to steal game 1 on Los Angeles' famed home court. While the goal of every road team is to simply gain a split in a given series with their opponent, under the NBA's format it is not only a goal, but its a required necessity.

You see, simply going back to Orlando 1-1 is not good enough on its own merit, even if this is the best you can hope for since there are basically three immediate obstaces in the NBA under its current format.

Obstacle No. 1: The road team, Orlando, must split the first two games, they have to

The NBA is stacked against the road team to the point where you know the lesser seed in the series, the Magic in this case, are not going to win all thee games in their arena in the middle of the series so right off the bat you are conceding at least one game to the favored team which starts the Finals off hosting at home.

Obstacle No. 2: Orlando must win 2-3 at home during the middle two games of the series

Given that they are fortunate enough to gain a split in the first two games, which they must do (no pressure fellas), they must follow that up with taking at least 2-3 on their home court.

Why 2-3?

Well given we've already conceded at least one of the first two games to the home team to start the series, in a virtual best-case scenario, taking 2-3 at home would put the lesser seed, the Magic, up only 3-2 going back to Los Angeles to finish out the series on their opponents' home court.

Obstacle No. 3 Orlando must win one of the final two games on Los Angeles' home court

Sounds easy enough. Hypothetically,they've done it once before right?

History shows if you are going to steal a game on the road, it's usually going to be Game One when the favored team isn't ready or rested enough if coming off a hard-fought extended series. If having breezed through an opponent, the excuse becomes: the favored team was rusty.

If, however, this potential Cinderella team is forced to do it again, it's a lot easier doing something once knowing it's a goal you should strive for, than knowing you have to do something, and the NBA, under its current format, instantly creates three obstacles which immediately favor the better team, thus better ensuring the abysmal dynastic-statistics we've seen for the past thirty years.

If continued under its current format, we should expect nothing to change. Is it possible for a team like the 2004 Detroit Pistons to upset the heavily favored, star-studded Lakers, especially in the five game manner they did?

Sure, but don't count on it, and knowing that given this format you've got three reasons for underdog teams to automatically be behind the eight-ball shows just how little the NBA cares and just how intent they are on preserving their dynasties in their coveted markets.

No wonder we don't see more upsets like in the other major professional sports. No wonder we see all the dynasties and no one seems to fully trust the NBA, or that it's seen as a niche sport to which many people cannot relate or "get behind."

It is the NBA that is truly behind and refuses to "get with it."

Oh and I'm still going with my prediction of Magic in six, I'm just laying out the unfortunate, inexcusable, built-in obstacles they will have to overcome not named Jackson or Kobe.


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