Let’s face it: the NBA All-Star Game has pretty much turned into one big bore. But maybe NBA Commissioner Adam Silver is looking into a European solution to the league’s All-Star problem.
The NBA has made changes the past two seasons whereby the two highest voted All-Stars select their own teams regardless of conference (e.g. “Lebron vs Steph”, “Lebron vs Giannis”). The game, however, stills remains mostly a farce with basically no defense and meaningless dunks. The point totals are also ridiculous.
In 2016 and 2017, total points reached 369 and 374, respectively, before falling back with the new “captain” system to 293 in 2018. However, they were back up to 342 in 2019, the third highest total ever. The average number of points in an NBA All-Star Game for the years 2000-2014 was 268. In the past six seasons the average has been 336 points, an increase of over 25%.
Americans still don’t understand the structure of European basketball
It’s no wonder that Silver is looking for a possible solution to these dreary 48 minutes. But he claims to be looking at European soccer for his model – when he should be looking at European basketball.
There were 65 Europeans on NBA rosters on opening night for the 2018-19 season. Though Europeans have already been playing in the NBA for many years and there are a plethora of NBA scouts that can be found across Europe year-round, there still seems to be a lack of understanding of the structure of European basketball, even among those who should be in the know.
Take, for example, the New York Times’ NBA writer Marc Stein: “England, as a soccer nation, provides its top teams, like Liverpool and Spurs, an opportunity to play for four major trophies every season as opposed to one.” What does he think happens in basketball?
European basketball primer
What Silver, Stein and apparently many others are missing is that basketball operates the same way, too. Every team in Europe in every league plays for 2-3 (and occasionally four) trophies. First, there is the regular season in every country that usually starts about late September/early October and runs to May or June. Those game are almost always, with a few exceptions, played on weekends, Saturday or Sunday.
Parallel to the regular season is a “State Cup” tournament. It’s usually played in a knockout format that involves games periodically usually involving 1st and/or 2nd division teams in every country and culminates in a sort of Final Four (or even Final Eight) tournament during the middle two weeks of February. EVERY league in Europe – national and international – breaks off for these February battles. They are often filled with drama as teams vie for the “Cup” trophy (which is separate from the league championship!).
It’s the “Cup” that the NBA commissioner is talking about emulating. This could involve some number of NBA teams (or all of them), culminating with some sort of tournament and championship game during what has been until now All-Star Weekend. Silver is quoted as saying that both he and various team executives pose the question regularly: “Why does such a long basketball season offer only one true prize?”
And that’s not all…
Finally, there are the international competitions. There are quite a number of teams (but not all) from many countries who participate in international leagues. If national league games are normally played Saturday-Sunday, international games in Europe take place usually Tuesday through Friday.
There are essentially four European international men’s leagues: the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague, the top professional league in Europe; the Euroleague’s 2nd league – the 7Days EuroCup; and then, two leagues sponsored by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA): the Basketball Champions League and the FIBA Europe Cup.
And let’s not forget the women. They have the same regular season/cup season for their leagues in each country and they also participate internationally. The top women’s teams all feature top WNBA players. They can make a lot more money in Europe than they can in the WNBA where there is a strict and rather low salary cap. The top female league is EuroLeague Women and there is also a second women’s league called the EuroCup Women. Both of them are under FIBA auspices.