A short time ago, the end of the NFL football season meant sports fans turned their attention towards the stretch run of the NBA basketball schedule.
Unfortunately, the glory days of the league are far in the rear view and the immediate future is looking bleak. Television ratings and ticket sales are on the decline and the NBA could be facing very uncertain days ahead.
The league began its slow and steady decline with it’s 1995 expansion to Canada. The addition of the Vancouver Grizzlies – who later relocated to Memphis – and the Toronto Raptors, diluted the talent pool immensely.
This coincided with the breakup of the widely popular Chicago Bulls roster that won six championships over a span of eight years.
In the 1998-99 off-season, Dennis Rodman signed with the Los Angeles Lakers, Scottie Pippen was traded to the Houston Rockets and Michael Jordan announced his retirement.
Chicago Bulls teams of the early 1990s were obviously huge television draws, as Rodman’s charismatic personality had crossover appeal to non-basketball fans and Jordan was perhaps the greatest athlete to ever play the game. The NBA was never the same after the abrupt dismantling of the Chicago Bulls dynasty squad.
Just one year later, the New York Knicks went into a steep decline following Patrick Ewing’s departure. The post-Ewing era plummet would last for almost a decade and basketball became a non-entity in New York. Not having this major market in the playoff mix year-after-year left the NBA reeling as they slipped further into the abyss. Fans gravitated to the Knicks teams of the mid-1990s because of their passionate, aggressive style. They played a physical game and weren’t afraid of mixing it up in the paint, which is a part of the modern game that is sorely lacking.
Players are expected to be robotic drones that can’t show emotion or make overt gestures in present-day NBA. A new rule was instituted during the offseason following the 2009-10 season that cracked down on player reactions to referee calls and increased fines for technical fouls.
Besides allowing for a more physical style of basketball, the NBA should implement a number of other changes that would bring the league back to the forefront of the sports landscape in the United States.
The regular-season should be cut from 82 games to 60, which would make each contest far more intense. A reduction in the number of games would have a detrimental impact on the league financially, but would significantly increase the quality of play. Fresher athletes means more exciting games, which would result in an overall better product for the customers. Fewer games might mean increased television ratings, because each game would have more meaning.
Secondly, a new playoff system should be introduced that would take a page from the NFL’s postseason format, where six teams from each conference -instead of eight – would make the playoffs, with the top two receiving first-round byes.
The NBA Playoffs takes far too long to complete by extending into June and allowing eight teams from each conference to make the playoffs means that far too many mediocre, sub-.500 squads have the chance to advance. There is not enough of an advantage of being the one or two seed in the conference under the current format, so they should receive first-round byes.