nba

The Case for Not Fucking Up the NBA Playoffs

Some folks are enamored with a plan to re-structure the NBA Playoffs by seeding the teams one through 16. This is bad and we're here to tell you why.

Corbin Smith

America’s most prominent basketball writer is fed the hell up. On his latest podcast, ESPN's Zack Lowe had to get something off his chest about the current state of the NBA Playoffs:

“We just got out of Adam Silver’s Board of Governors...he addressed the possibility of seeding the playoffs one through sixteen. I have crossed the Rubicon on this. I now want it to happen and I want it to happen immediately. I don’t wanna hear any more about air travel. I don’t wanna hear any more about the imbalanced schedule and how it's impossible to get teams to play identical schedules and play 82 games. I want there to be a one to sixteen playoff system.”

As goes Zach Lowe, so goes the NBA enthusiast at large. Lowe is voicing a nagging feeling that has permeated throughout the commentariat for a very long time. Even Adam SIlver, who knows what a logistical nightmare this would be, admits that the idea has a kind of raw appeal to the world at large.

But, I SUBMIT that even though this might make sense in a kind of raw-logic sort of way, "Hey just give the best teams the payoff spots, c’mon!" is a… brutalist idea, at best. It ignores all kinds of subtle shading that make the playoff picture beautiful, and would have logistical consequences that would ripple throughout the league and make the playoffs more complicated and worse to watch. Please, sit back and relax while I detail these problems, one after another, and convince you entirely of my point of view:

TRADITION… TRA-DI-TION!

Sports are not like movies or TV or whatever the fuck, they’re not a form of entertainment that thrives on novelty. They are fundamentally slow, with tactics and players and coaches and teams drifting along like icebergs, colliding into each other over the course of years, forming familiar dents and cracks. An individual play, or game, or series never occurs in a vacuum. It all comes with the weight of everything that happened before, a simulacrum of real life’s disappointments and triumphs, playing out in front of you in a motion that is similar to your own life.

This is all to say: teams playing each other in the playoffs year after year, forming edges and enacting tactics and replaying match-ups whose outcomes do (or do not) change over the course of years is good! LeBron had to break the Celtics. Jordan had to overcome the Pistons. Reggie Miller had a blood war with the Knicks. The poor, sainted Chris Webber Kings were tormented to the edge of madness by Shaq. Russell got the best of Wilt, year after year after yeah.

This is the shit that gives sports weight and gravitas, the year-after-year confrontations and history that back up every series. It is the shit that no other form of entertainment can forge, real life playing out in front of you, taking on new subtleties with every rematch. Teams showing down in the playoffs year after year is GOOD, and blowing up the seeding and keeping that from happening would be asinine. Who out there is thirsting for a 4-12 Celtics/Nuggets matchup, exactly? There’s no heft, no narrative; it's just two random-ass teams from completely different parts of the country squaring off on account of the arbitrary fluctuations of their respective seasons. Just say no to Celtics/Nuggets, people!

I MEAN, I KNOW ITS HARD, BUT SOMETIMES AN UPSET COULD BE GOOD

Look: I know upsets almost never happen already. Basketball’s extraordinarily large possession count makes the game profoundly deterministic, the better team winning WAY more often than they don’t. Seven game series buffet this even more, making it nearly impossible to fluke your way out of the first round.

But this shit where the top seeds will ALWAYS be squaring off against the dregs of the league? It’s too much! It makes first round upsets an EVEN MORE MASSIVE hill to climb, basically ENDING some fun shit just for the sake of promoting try-hardism in the regular season. Reseeding would be a GOOD TIMES KILLING FIELD, PEOPLE!

AIR TRAVEL IS KIND OF BAD FOR THE ENVIRONMENT!

Teams should already be taking buses more often, to cut down on the extraordinary amount of carbon that private jets throw into the atmosphere, and this would just make it way worse!

Look: I understand that globalization has made the world smaller and more accessible in a lot of ways. I could close this window I’m writing on and read the Times of India’s front page RIGHT NOW, which is some shit I extremely wouldn’t have been able to do when Larry Bird or whoever was winning titles. But sports are not like newspapers or videos of teens playing video games. They are, fundamentally, a collision of bodies on courts and fields, a test of in-person physical will, enjoyed by audiences not just on television but in person, and thats fundamentally requires transporting those bodies from place to place in order to happen.

That fact of sports comes with a cost: you have to take everyone everywhere around North America, so that everyone can have a sports teams and enjoy sports. The logistics of this are already a gigantic pain in the ass, and spreading out the distance teams have to go EVEN FURTHER would be wasteful at best, malfeasant at worst. Not everything is subject to the conveniences of the global economy. We also don’t pour terawatts of energy into growing all our food hydroponically, even though we theoretically could. Just let it be.

FAIRNESS IS OVERRATED

It just is, man! Sorry! Sports are a microcosm of a world that is PROFOUNDLY unfair from root to stem, and doing everything you can to suck that unfairness out of them makes them less true to life in the process. Basketball’s hyper-meritocracy is maybe already a little TOO fair, denying us the pure visceral thrill you get out of weird, bullshit journeymen winning the World Series MVP like, every year. Just let it be, man! Nothing is perfect, everything has unintended consequences.

THE PLAYOFFS ARE ALREADY THE BEST SPORTS SHIT IMAGINABLE

This one feels pretty self-explanatory.

This article originally appeared on VICE Sports US.