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If I Became Basketball Dictator

Let's make the NBA a real Association instead of one league.

by James Leroy Wilson
December 14, 2011

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If I Became Basketball Dictator

The darkest period in NBA history was followed by ... the darkest day in NBA history.

The same day the NBA lock-out ended as the Players Association ratified a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, Commissioner David Stern vetoed a trade that would have sent superstar point guard Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets to the LA Lakers.

The Hornets probably should never have existed. Their first season was 1988-89 in Charlotte, and they moved to New Orleans by 2001-02. Last year, their owner couldn't find a buyer, so the other NBA owners chipped in roughly $10 million each. The NBA itself owns the franchise.

Chris Paul is its greatest asset, but he knew that championships mean joining a more stable team. In the last season of his contract, it was clear that after the season he would sign as a free agent elsewhere. The Hornets manager pulled off a brilliant trade, where he got three quality starters, a back-up point guard, and a 2012 draft pick in a three-team trade that sent Paul to the Lakers.

The Commissioner vetoed the trade, which most observers thought was a great one for all involved, particularly the Hornets. And it was another piece of evidence in favor of the suspicions of many that the NBA is rigged.

Personally, I think Commissioner Stern's veto was so atrocious, that all NBA coaches and general managers should have staged a walk-out, a "strike" in protest. Stern made it more difficult to do their job if they believed he would veto any trade involving the Hornets.

The NBA could have solved this problem by eliminating the Hornets franchise altogether. The NBA doesn't need a team in New Orleans, and New Orleans may be too small and/or poor to support more than one major league franchise. And that would be the Saints.

But I think there's a bigger problem. The sport of basketball is ideally suited toward tournament play. The NBA needs a much shorter season, but its teams should play in more tournaments in more locations. If I became Basketball Dictator, the Hornets might still exist, and might still exist in New Orleans, but not at the elite level.

What I propose is a much larger National Basketball Association with more leagues.

In Europe, a nation's soccer league is often divided into "divisions," with some lower-division teams striving to earn their way into the Premier League or First Division. I think we could use a similar concept like that in the United States (possibly with Canada) for basketball.

I would expand the NBA to 119 teams. I would also help clean up the corruption in big-time college basketball, by providing an opportunity for the prodigies to get paid. My NBA would allow 17 year-olds to play and get paid.

Here's my dream:

A 17-team Division I league. These would tend to be in the largest metropolitan areas and have the highest salary cap. They will tend to have the best players in their prime. Presumably it would be called the American Basketball League.

A 34-team Division 2, divided into two 17-team leagues divided by East and West. This will have a moderate salary cap, and will tend to have high-potential youngsters, competent journeymen, and declining stars. Presumably they will be called the Eastern League and Western League.

A 68-team Division 3, divided into 4 17-team leagues by region. This will have a low salary cap. Will tend to have college-age players with experienced and aging journeymen who can teach them how to play the game. Presumably they will be called the Pacific/Mountain League, the Central League, the Northeast League, and the Southern League.

  • Regardless of league, the minimum age will be 17. 17, 18, 19 year-olds will have restricted, equal salaries (increasing by age and league). They can sign only one-year contracts, and must live in dorm or family settings with free and extensive education/life skills instruction. Teams have rights to re-sign players of these age levels unless a higher-division team offers them a contract.
  • No player can be "called up" to a higher league; this isn't a farm system
  • No player can be traded to a lower-division team without his consent.

Each league in all divisions will play by the same game rules and championship format:

  • Each league has the same rules and same form of championship play-off (simplest would be home-and-home)
  • Each team plays 48 games, 3 against each league member
  • If Team A hosts Team B twice in one year and visits once, the reverse must be the case the following year
  • Play-offs in each round are best-of-three
  • Eight-team play-off seeded 1-8

Every year, the bottom four of the Division 1 league's go to Division 2, and the two Division 2 champions are invited to move up to Division one, as well as the team that finished next-highest in the regular-season standings in each Division. The bottom four in the standings of both Division 2 leagues go to Division 3; the top two teams of each of the Division 3 league (the league champ and the winningest team in the regular season) gets invited to Division 2. However, a franchise can decline "moving up" to a higher-level league if it does not believe it can afford the higher salary cap. Teams that move down will be exempt from their lower-league's salary cap in honoring current contracts, but contracts for new players will be capped.


Dec 15-March 15: 48 games played in each league
March 15-April 15: Playoffs in each league

NBA Championship: April 21-May 21

The Championship will be a 14-game home-and-home round robin among all league champions. The top two teams will play a three-game series. Presumably, the Division 1 team will usually win it all, but it's not set in stone. In addition, there could be upsets of Division 3 teams over Division 2 teams. It would also be the opportunity to determine the "best" of the two Division 2 league champions, and of the four Division 3 champions.

Before and after the NBA season, individual teams could play in other tournaments across leagues and divisions, and in sanctioned tournaments that could involve foreign teams. Points would be awarded for success in these tournaments. The points in tournament play wouldn't affect who wins the NBA Championship, but it would play into another feature of our new system: Team rankings.

Teams would compete not just for tournament wins, league championships, and the NBA championship, but they would also compete to be the #1 team in America in a system that weighted league strength, league standings, and tournament play standings. The rankings would adjust each week, and would be based on a team's overall performance over the previous 52 weeks. It would motivate lower-division teams to secure a ranking ahead of higher-division teams, provide incentive for a higher-division team to not get embarrassed by getting ranked lower than a lower-division team, and give every team something to play for, in every game and every tournament.  

These tournaments would ideally be played on weekday nights in November and early December. That is, as a midweek distraction after the World Series that won't compete with football. More tournaments could also be played by non-play-off teams concurrent with the league play-offs. Teams with players that also play for the national team would be granted waivers for some of these tournaments: the player would not be obligated to play all the tournaments, and the team would not be as severely punished in the rankings if they don't do well in tournaments while their star player plays for the national team.

Basketball is not like football, where an 18 year-old lineman is nowhere close to as good as a 23-year-old or 27 year-old lineman. It is more like tennis, which favors youthful agility. Some of the best basketball players are very young, and they would do well to apply their talents against experienced professionals. My expanded NBA, which allows college-age players to by-pass the sham of college basketball, would create drama week after week. It would also bring pro basketball to more cities.

If such a system existed, basketball might replace football as my favorite sport. Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, give me the money to make it happen!

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