Saturday, March 6, 2021

The Socialist’s Journal: NBA Playoffs

Brookins Head Shot
Trevor Brookins

*I generally define conservatism as wanting to keep things the same or trying to get things back to how they once were. By contrast liberalism is an openness to new ways of doing things.

If these definitions sound like value judgments let me assure you that, while I am generally liberal, I don’t not think conservatism is necessarily bad. Looking at these definitions a different way, liberals think about a situation and believe the best is yet to come; conservatives believe the best is happening or already happened.

The thing about idolizing the past is that doing so ignores the fact that we as a global civilization are constantly making progress in various areas. Unless you are a very particular kind of person chances are you don’t sell your car and begin commuting by horseback. Hell, chances are you don’t sell you current car for an older model unless it’s something classic (think: 1970s Ford Mustang, not 1980s Datsun). In general we use the advances of society to overcome the hurdles that we are faced with. (We use planes and refrigeration to make it possible to have Kiwi in North America when that fruit has no business in the northern or western hemispheres.

Sports is really no different in how it progresses with society. But for some reason we don’t apply the same logic. For some reason the National Basketball Association (NBA) is continuing in the traditional playoff structure it established over half a century ago when the league was barely surviving. The idea of having an Eastern Conference and a Western Conference probably made a lot more sense when teams couldn’t afford to charter a plane to be used at their discretion and travel was a big deal. If that’s the case by all means play games close to your home city.

But in 2015 it makes no sense that travel would be such an issue. And if geography is the main reason that two and possibly three teams that couldn’t win more games than they lost are going to make the playoffs, something is wrong. Even though it is rare that one conference is bad enough that this is an issue, this happens to be the second year in a row that the Eastern Conference is letting teams with losing records have a chance at the championship. Nevertheless the rarity of this occurrence doesn’t mean that we should allow it. This way of doing things probably isn’t hurting anyone (unless you’re connected to the sports industry in Oklahoma City and will lose out on the revenue that playoff basketball produces). But it also wouldn’t hurt anyone to simply put the best sixteen teams in the playoffs regardless of geographic location (unless you’re connected to the sports industry in Boston, Indiana, or Brooklyn – in which case the team in your town doesn’t deserve the playoff bump as much as Oklahoma City anyway so stop complaining).

And if sports conservatism is the only justification for this, then someone (maybe a bunch of someones) should be relieved of their jobs. Because “this is the way it’s always been done” is code for laziness. Within the realm of sports there was always a college football bowl season where certain conferences were committed to certain bowl games and the best teams might never face one another – until this season when a playoff system was initiated. Within professional sports, major league baseball had two leagues with the winner of each league playing in the World Series, until they split the leagues into two divisions and added a round of playoffs, until they split the leagues into three divisions and added a wild card round of playoffs, until they added another wild card team and another playoff game.

Even with professional basketball the league recently admitted that it didn’t have to follow the same path that was laid out decades ago because of geographic and travel considerations. Up until last season the championship round always followed a specific schedule to minimize cross country flights, now the schedule is designed to make the series as competitive as possible.

The playoff format should be changed.

Trevor Brookins is a free lance writer in Rockland County, New York. He is currently working on a book about American culture during the Cold War.  His writing has appeared in The Journal News. You can reach him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @historictrev.



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