NBA

Adam Silver talks about shortening the NBA season to less than 82 games

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The 82-game NBA season has been in place since 1967-68, but has recently come under intense scrutiny, with the flames notably fanned by commissioner Adam Silver.

Silver is pushing for an in-season tournament to generate more interest and certainly more revenue. The tournament would lead to shortening the season.

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But it looks like he could be running the risk of devaluing the regular season by pushing for more incentive games before the playoffs.

“I recognize that it could always be a concern that people might understand that from what I’ve said, I’m at least trying to send the opposite message,” Silver recently told Yahoo Sports at the Boys and Girls Club in San Francisco. “But I want to make sure people understand, like any other company, that we’re constantly thinking about innovation. And we listen to our fans.

Is it the chicken or the egg? The conversation has become so diluted that it’s hard to tell if fans think too many games mean nothing or if players and teams are acting like 82 games is too much.

Messages from many league partners seem counter-intuitive and therefore may send a message to fans which is then recycled and sent out into the Twitter sphere. There’s no doubt that some regular season games mean more than others, but one wonders if the NBA could do a better job with its own regular season messaging and packaging.

“The last thing I’m trying to suggest is that we don’t value our current regular season, it’s extremely valuable,” Silver said. “These teams care a lot about home-court advantage, and people can’t get enough of NBA basketball.”

NBA commissioner Adam Silver spoke to Yahoo Sports about the shortening of the NBA season to less than 82 games and what the league sees as a path to creating new lore and more value. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Even if the in-season tournament doesn’t materialize, will fans take this as a signal that the league doesn’t value its own regular season?

Silver made an important distinction, if the in-season tournament becomes a reality: fans will still be able to get that once-a-year visit from every player because the interconference schedule won’t change.

“If we made any changes to the schedule, we would still ensure that every team played each other at least once,” Silver said. “I think it’s extremely important. Everybody wants to see, even if it’s a trip across the country, that wherever that player is on that team that’s playing in the other conference, they should have the opportunity to see that player at least once.

He wants to create new traditions, but it takes time; the most accurate indicator of success will probably be television revenues.

“And then the question is, will it create additional interest for the fans? If there are games that are of particular interest during the season and the guys feel they are playing for something? Silver said.

“And finally, I will say that I recognize that [if] we do, it won’t be an overnight success. Because the obvious question, whether coming from the players or the fans, will be: ‘What? Why should we think that makes sense? Play tournaments during the season?’ My response is going to be, “I understand.” But I think you can create new traditions, obviously things change over time. And so that’s something I’m very focused on right now.

With additions in sports science and overall Silver-referenced innovation, today’s players have far more advantages than generations past: better movement and training, more rest, and the most effective recovery methods.

Lost in it, the element of the NBA season being an intentional marathon and attrition game. It’s been woven into the fabric of the NBA for as long as anyone can remember. Champions often have a mix of health, youth and experience favored over 82 game seasons and know how to manage.

The prospect of removing this item seems to tear the fabric of a critical item.

“Having teams focus on load management and players resting sends a message in itself,” Silver said. “And I say we pay attention to that and we want to make sure that the number of games we play is not just a result of it being what we’ve been doing for 50 years.”

Silver said he “takes a fresh look” at things and is loyal to varying degrees of success. The play-in tournament produced some great matchups last year and keeps the intrigue going for more teams late in the season. He also changed the 2-3-2 NBA Finals setup created by his predecessor, the late David Stern, reimplementing the 2-2-1-1-1 upon taking office, starting with the 2014 NBA Finals.

Because the playoffs are plagued by injuries to key players — something that has happened virtually every year of the NBA’s existence — there has been pressure to shorten the season. Silver thought last year’s truncated season answered that question, but it still persists.

“Last season, entirely due to COVID issues which compressed the schedule, we played 72 games,” Silver said. “I thought that was a pretty good answer for everyone who said we would reduce injuries by playing 10 fewer games, that was quickly forgotten.”

There’s an element that the NBA can’t control either. The age of specialization in young people means that more pressure is put on the bodies of potential players at a younger age. On AAU weekends, players play multiple times a day, as well as around-the-clock activities from personal trainers, which did not exist as much in other eras.

The human body clock doesn’t magically start once someone enters the NBA, and during the offseasons there are plenty of videos of players running around at local gyms across the country.

The phrase “basketball never stops” exists for a reason.

“Of course if a player is off the pitch it reduces the risk of them getting injured, but there was no data showing that a shorter season meant that over the course of the year, we would have fewer injuries,” Silver said. “So that was an important message in itself.”

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