While reading this Ira Winderman column about the benefits of a shortened season it hit me: Why don’t the NBA and the union take the games missed to the lockout and spread them out over a few years rather than hack them all away from this season? In other words, this is the opportunity to get the shorter regular season that everyone who doesn’t directly profit off every game has wanted.
Let's say the lockout lasts two months and takes away about 30 games from each team. Instead of lopping them off right away, take away six games from each team over the next five years. Play 76 a season. Cram them into the compressed calendar this year, then plan accordingly the following years. The games that remain will have slightly more meaning. The players will be a little fresher for the playoffs. The fans won’t be subjected to that extra padding, those games that take place simply because they’re needed to fulfill the 82-game slate.
The only reason the schedule has stayed at 82 was the league and the players wanted to maximize the box office and television contract revenues. Now that they’ve shown a willingness to throw all of those dollars in the trash, why can’t the rest of us benefit from their stupidity? All it would require is them replacing “82” with “76” in the collective bargaining agreement and making the corresponding changes.
The owners could still maintain their objective of keeping money out of the players’ hands for now, with the hopes that the union caves after a few more missed paydays. Those games and those dollars are never coming back, so why not distribute the drop-off over the next five years?
The unspoken truth about the 1998-99 lockout: the shorter season was fun. The quality of play decreased with the thrown-together rosters, abbreviated training camp and back-to-back-to-back sets. But the urgency of each game increased. It was the difference between a mile-long race and a 400-meter lap around the track. It wouldn’t be as noticeable with the 76 season as the drop from 82 games to 50 was that year, but take away a set of energy-draining back-to-back games here, a Bucks-Pacers matchup in March there, and you’ve created a better product for the fans to enjoy.
Speaking of the fans, teams could take the money owed to them for their season-ticket deposits on an incomplete schedule this year and give fans the option to deduct it from their plans over the next five seasons, since each year will now be a smaller package. As a reward for staying with the league, promise them they could lock in at this new, lower rate at current prices for the next five years if they commit now.
The downsides are minimal. Shorter seasons would hamper anyone going after Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s career scoring record. But keep in mind there would still be the three-point shot, a benefit Kareem didn’t have half his career, and something he successfully utilized only once.
Seventy-six games would require near-perfection for a team to set the regular-season record for victories. It also would bring a nice, round number back into play as the target for the new, shorter-season record: Seventy. It sounds so silky. Ever since the Lakers went 69-13 in the 1971-72 season, 70 was the target for NBA regular-season excellence until the Bulls went 72-10 in 1995-96. I still remember the Feb. 28, 1983, Sports Illustrated cover “The Sixers Are Going For Seventy” because it sounded so rhythmic. “The Sixers are going for Seventy-three” just wouldn’t be the same (and given the state of the roster three decades later, it is also impossible).
We’re already starting to see some of the negative side effects of the lockout. It’s time to find something good to take out of this. Just as heavy rains led to memorable “People’s Sundays” at Wimbledon, we could remember the shorter season as the legacy of the lockout.