Tag Archives: March Madness

NBA Utopia Project: Proposing the NBA Cup

I’ve been motivated into writing about something different this week, after reading an article by Daniel Leroux on a 58-game NBA season as part of the NBA Utopia project. The NBA Utopia project is platform to share ideas for how the league could work in an ideal world. Well, I’m sharing my vision for a NBA Cup…

I’m quite strict on who I consider to be a contender. Usually it’s about 3 teams that I consider as being good enough to win the title in a season. Last year I thought the title was going to one of Cleveland, San Antonio or Golden State. This year’s it’s the same 3 teams, but you could make a case for the Thunder or the Clippers to be contenders too.

According to the betting markets, there’s a 82.6% chance that the title is going to one of those 5 teams. As a reference point the top 13 teams in the NFL have a 83% chance of winning this year’s Superbowl (again according to the betting market).

The point I’m making is that for the vast majority of teams, they have next to no chance of winning any silverware this year. There’s only one trophy and only 3-5 teams’ fanbases can realistically dream of their team holding it come June.

As a gambler I like that each team plays 82 games. Hell, as a gambler I’d like them to play even more games! But as a fan I don’t want more games for the sake of it, I want more meaningful games. As the season is so long there are stretches where there isn’t much intensity in the games. Especially during the last few weeks of the regular season when certain teams have their playoff place & seed sown up and are avoiding injuries, while other teams are eliminated from the postseason and are thinking about their summer vacation (if they don’t have a new contract to play for). Around this time of year you often hear calls on Twitter to “just start the playoffs already goddamnit!”.

So, as a fan I wouldn’t mind if they played 10-25 games less. If they played everybody else just home & away that would be 58 games each, which Daniel Leroux previously wrote about. That’s more than enough games to find out the top 8 teams in each conference. What I’m proposing is setting aside about a 2-3 week period, so removing some regular season games, to have an NBA Cup.

A what now?

In most sports here in Europe there’s a league championship, where everybody plays everyone else home & away, and then there’s a cup competition; a series of single game knockout matches. In soccer, I’m sure most Americans are familiar with the English Premier League and the FA Cup, and also the League Cup (currently called the Capital One Cup). In the European basketball competitions there’s the domestic league, and during up to a week period in February; there’s a cup competition.

A cup competition provides the chance for a lot more teams to win some silverware. Team such as Atlanta, Dallas, Milwaukee, New Orleans etc have no real shot at the title. But (with some HCA) could conceivably win 5 knockout games in a row to win the NBA Cup. Even Lakers fans could convince themselves that they have at least some hope for a season!

Look at the success of college basketball. TV companies pay $10.8 billion to show March Madness as it has massive viewership. More people actually watch March Madness than the NBA playoffs. Part of the reason for this is due to the drama that a single game elimination format provides.

A NBA Cup would generate a lot of interest in the NBA as it would draw in a lot of casual viewers. It could attain the broad appeal that the NCAA tournament has.

What’s the format of this NBA Cup going to look like?

  • Round 1: 14 games
  • Round 2: 8 games
  • Quarterfinals: 4 games
  • Semifinals: 2 games
  • Final: 1 game

As there’s 30 NBA teams, 2 teams will have a bye in the first round. This could be the previous year’s NBA champions and Cup winners. If a team did the ‘double’ (winning both the championship & the cup) then the team that has the best regular season record gets the other bye. I’d like to quickly mention the prestige in winning the double, it’s usually a sign of a historically good team. Recent English football double winners include the Manchester United teams of ’94 & ’99, Arsenal of 2002, and Chelsea of 2010.

Tournament format:


Above is a suggested tournament schedule. There’s a day off in between round for rest/travel. The worst case scenario is if a team has to play 5 games in 12 days. I think the best time to have this competition is after the Superbowl, but before March Madness (both for obvious reasons). So that leaves February, the month of the All Star Game.

Like the FA cup I like the idea of a random draw, broadcast live after each round.

Accrington Stanley! Who are they?!

The remaining teams each are represented by a ball and are drawn out to determine who will play at home to whom in the next round. Imagine the draw being carried out by 2 NBA HOFers, each introduced with a montage of the finest moments from their careers…

..But a better way to get that mainstream appeal is to copy the NCAA and have the full bracket determined before the first match. That way everyone in the country can fill out a bracket and form an interest in the competition from the start. Even people who couldn’t even name one college player fill out a bracket for March Madness. It appeals to people who don’t even normally watch basketball.

Either way, home court advantage would be present until the Final 4. This is where the 2 Semis and the Final are played at a designated city over a weekend. A bit like All Star weekend, expect there’s going to be some games actually worth watching! The Saturday in between the Semi and Final could be used for the All Star Game, for players who aren’t playing in the Final.  Personally, I think the ASG is terrible and never I watch it. But some other people like it. The ASG viewing numbers are better than the average regular season game, but obviously nowhere near as popular as the NBA Finals. You could use it to fill the gap between the Semis and Final.

So would you rather keep a 82-game regular season, or would you like to see an NBA Cup introduced?