According to lore, or at least the Sports Illustrateds that I read in my youth, it was Red Auerbach that convinced David Stern to adhere to a 2-3-2 home/away format for the NBA Finals. Mindful of the potential for a Boston Celtics/Los Angeles Lakers Finals pairing that could appear repeatedly from 1984 until the end of the decade, Stern (in his first full year as commissioner) decided to change the format away from 2-2-1-1-1 for the 1985 Finals in order to save wear and tear on his league’s players, staff, and media.
It seemed like a good idea at the time, as the NBA featured wider mile stretches between typical conference champions than the NHL, and a geography-based conference divider that was unlike Major League Baseball or pro football’s setups. If the Finals were to be held in Boston and Los Angeles every year, why not give everyone a break – instead of shuttling back and forth between Games five through seven?
Well, because that format doesn’t match up with the NBA’s other playoff series’, the 2-3-2 approach has taken on flack over the last two decades. And with Stern set to step down midseason after 30 years on the job, there are reports that the league could go back to what seemed to serve them so well when St. Louis and Minneapolis were the reigning Western Conference champions. Steve Bulpett of the Boston Herald was the first to report the news, via the Associated Press:
The league's Competition Committee voted unanimously to recommend the change from the current 2-3-2 system and owners will vote on it next month at their meetings.
"The idea was raised at the Competition Committee and was well-received and the committee ultimately unanimously voted to recommend the change in format," NBA spokesman Tim Frank said Sunday.
If approved, it hasn't been decided if the change would begin with the 2014 finals.
Because the Super Bowl is in a neutral location, and the World Series’ home field advantage is stupidly strangely decided by MLB’s All-Star Game, the NBA Finals are in a unique position. Nearly three decades after the switch to 2-3-2, it’s still debatable as to whether or not the team with home court advantage is helped or hurt by the format (remember, all it takes is one Game 3 win from the team with the better record to achieve a borderline-insurmountable 3-0 chokehold on the Finals), but the NBA appears to have had enough with the switch.
That said, flying is a pain in the butt.
Yes, these million dollar athletes fly charter flights, but the stress and wear of moving from city to city three times over a course of six days can still get to these athletes. Would Ray Allen’s legs have been in good enough shape to hit his legendary three-pointer last June under the same schedule? Would Tim Duncan still have averaged 27 points and 14.5 rebounds in the last two games of the 2013 Finals had he flown back and forth between two cities three times within six days, as per last year’s Finals schedule?
As a member of the media, my legs don’t need to be at their best. But as someone who has done the Los Angeles-to-Boston jaunt for a seven-game Finals series before, it’s not easy. And that was under a 2-3-2 format.
It’s about the product. It’s about giving NBA players a chance to be at their best in what will be the most-watched games of the year after the league drags them through a one-month “preseason,” a five-month regular season, and potentially a two-month playoff run. By the time the Finals hits, both participants have hit triple digits in terms of games in a season, not counting the exhibition turn, and it’s unreasonable to expect players to be at their freshest over eight months after the preseason games begin.
Does a 2-2-1-1-1 or 2-3-2 Finals format change any of that? Again, it’s debatable. Considering the brand of ball we saw last June, though, it’s hard to argue that things are going terribly wrong.