It's Time to Shorten the Seasons; Travis, Okpala Updates
Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.
Like interminable professional basketball and baseball seasons.
The recent devastating injuries to Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson have renewed calls to shorten the season in the interests of player safety.
It’s an idea whose time has come.
Consider that not only Durant and Thompson, but several other top NBA players, including Victor Oladipo, Paul George, Jusuf Nurkic and John Wall, all suffered season-ending calamities this year.
In the recent past, Kawhi Leonard and Chris Paul went down with injuries that took them out of the playoffs.
It’s the same story in baseball, as the litany of injuries to the core players of our San Francisco Giants—Madison Bumgarner, Johnny Cueto, Buster Posey, et al—will attest.
It wasn’t always this way.
When I was a kid—back in the days of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain, Johnny Unitas and Jim Brown—sports seasons were shorter and players stayed healthier.
The NBA playoffs ended in April, the World Series by the first week of October. There were fewer playoff rounds and, not coincidentally, fewer injuries.
Mays, for example, had a 13-year stretch where he played at least 150 games every season. And Russell played at least 70 games his last 11 seasons in the NBA.
A big part of that indestructibility was the fact that, until 1969, there were no playoffs in baseball other than the World Series. So the highest number of games any team could play was 162 in the regular season and seven in the Series.
Expansion: As the league expanded, so did the playoffs. Now with the addition of the wild card game, division and league championship series, a team can play as many as 22 post-season games. As a result, baseball often stretches into November.
In the NBA it's even worse. With four playoff rounds—all best of seven—added on to an 82-game season, teams often play 100 games, and the season ends in mid-June.
The Greed Factor: The main reason for this insanity, of course, is money. Lots of it. Playoff games sell out, and multiple networks pay ridiculous sums of money for TV rights.
So shortening the regular season, or reducing the length of the playoffs, would take a lot of money out of the pockets of greedy owners.
That’s why it’s unlikely that any time soon, you’ll see the NBA season shortened from 82 games to a more reasonable 64, or the early rounds of the playoffs reduced from best-of-seven to best-of-five series.
In fact, in the money-crazed NFL, which plays four absurd pre-season exhibitions, the $44 million commissioner is actually considering lengthening the regular season from 16 games to 18. I guess not enough all-pros have gone down with season-ending injuries yet.
Maybe if the carnage gets bad enough, and season-ending injuries to superstars start to affect TV ratings, the suits will finally do something.
Until then, the hypocritical rhetoric about player safety will continue, and the cash registers will continue to ring.
Undrafted: Former Stanford star Reid Travis didn't hear his name called at the NBA draft last week. It wasn’t all that surprising, given that Travis wasn’t invited to the combine, and his size and skill set don’t translate well to the NBA.
He plans to play for the Atlanta Hawks summer league team, hoping to catch on somewhere, but will likely end up in Europe.
You’ll recall the 6-8, 240-pound grad transfer left Stanford for Kentucky last season with hopes of improving his draft status and winning an NCAA championship. While he went undrafted, and didn’t win a championship, Travis got plenty of TV airtime.
And I'm sure he took lots of scintillating graduate courses at Kentucky.
KZ Slides: Another ex-Stanford player, KZ Okpala, was drafted in the second round by Miami. One must question his decision to turn pro after his sophomore season.
In the middle of the season, Okpala was being projected as a lottery pick. After some low effort and poor shooting games, he dropped all the way down to the second round. That cost him many millions of dollars, which he won't ever recoup, unless he becomes a superstar and gets it back in free agency.
Another year with Stanford would've given Okpala a much-needed opportunity to improve his shooting and his consistency, perhaps elevating him back to the lottery in next year's draft.
Plus, it would’ve considerably brightened the outlook in Maples Pavilion.