The NBA’s In-Season Tournament takes from soccer but isn’t a cup

The NBA's In-Season Tournament takes from soccer but isn’t a cup

I’ll give the NBA this, as a soccer fan. It’s the only league to take notice of soccer’s consistently rising popularity and attempt to capitalize on that by co-opting some element of it. This is where anyone like me has to fight a blinding urge to scream about promotion and relegation, and earlier today I strained a quad just sneezing, so to tamp that down could well be fatal. But I’ll do it.

So short of that, the NBA saw the way soccer allows for more than one path to a successful season, i.e. teams being in more than one competition, and did what it could to ape it. Except that none of it really works.

Simply rearranging the same teams into different formations doesn’t make it a cup, or catch any of the excitement of one. This is also a problem for NWSL’s Challenge Cup, where the same teams are just aligned a little differently and doesn’t really provide any novelty. We see the Kings and Warriors in Sacramento every year, and simply changing the design of the court doesn’t change that. All you’ve done is just change the label, and in this case, the NBA hasn’t even done that. It’s just added a label to a regular-season game. It’s Malibu Stacy with her new hat.

The charm of any cup competition in soccer is that it encompasses teams from every level, which American sports don’t have. They aren’t going to toss G League teams into this, and adding college teams is about as likely as playing the final on a ring of Saturn. But that’s what makes it in other countries, the randomness and allure of new matchups fans don’t see multiple times a season and just the possibility of a one-off, massive upset.

Which feeds into another aspect the NBA can’t draw into by simply playing musical chairs with how teams are grouped. No random draw. If the competition had more than the NBA teams, and suddenly the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers had to play each other, that becomes something of a big deal. But now they’re just playing as they normally would.

Another wonky part of this is the timing. The NBA shoved this right up against the beginning of the season, where there is still excitement over basketball being back and the newness of a new season. It was an extra spark where it wasn’t needed. January or February when everyone’s sick of the regular season would have worked better, though obviously there are a lot of logistics to consider.

By just doubling up regular season games to have two meanings all of the sudden (which is what high school baseball teams do around here when too many of your games have been rained or frozen out earlier in the season, which happens every season), the NBA isn’t capturing anything that a cup tournament is supposed to have to make it pop. Perhaps with repeated editions over the years, it’ll capture the attention a little better or become its own thing. It’s just hard to see that when the format doesn’t really give it any outs. Maybe it’ll work better when the NBA expands to 32 teams and can just go straight knockout. At least that would stand out, slightly, from the regular season.

Kudos to the NBA for trying something, though. And for acknowledging when something else somewhere else is working. But this isn’t it.

Look at banner poster, Michael

Every picture tells a story, so here’s one telling the story of just where the Celtics and Bulls are right now as organizations:

Why don’t I watch WWE?

Hey Sam, remind us some of the reasons again why you don’t watch WWE.

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Original source here

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About the Author

Anthony Barnett
Anthony is the author of the Science & Technology section of ANH.