Can the NBA learn a lot from the real football?

Yes, the NBA can learn a lot from the real football, but Adam Silver shouldn’t overdo it

Can the NBA learn a lot from the real football? Adam Silver seems to think so. Slowly but surely he is trying to implement changes to the NBA. The biggest change thus far is quite obvious: the play-in tournament. There was quite some resistance at first. Almost no change comes easy. However, after a handful of massively exciting games and an upset or two, the majority seems to be at least fine with it. But Adam isn’t done. He wants more. He has a strong eye on football and this makes perfect sense. But, what even is football?

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver talking to the media

Football, American Football and Soccer

Let’s get one thing out of the way. If 49 states would call a specific animal a prairie dog and one state would call that same animal a rabbit; take a wild guess what it would be called. Exactly. A prairie dog. Football, as in, the real football. The most popular sport on earth, in which players actually use their feet when they have the ball 99% of the time. That sport is rightfully called football. That other sport, primarily played in America. Where players handle the ball 99% of the time, should have a different name. Alas, many Americans are stubborn and think that America is the world. This is exemplified by World Championship titles for sports leagues that either are exclusively American, or have one or two Canadian participants. Agreed. There are worse things in the world. For clarity’s sake, this article will call football football and will mostly ignore that other sport.


If it ain’t broke…

Before diving into Silver’s proposed changes let’s look at what makes the NBA great. Because, great it is. The NBA is one of the most progressive leagues in the world. This is partially the case because the late David Stern had a vision. He truly wanted to grow the international game of basketball and we have seen this pay off for years. The willingness to adjust rules and try things out isn’t a given in different leagues and sports around the world. The shot clock, hand checking, the 3-point line, 3-second rule, gather step, transition take foul and more. Not every rule change has been deemed an improvement unequivocally, but, I don’t know of another league that has successfully improved the game so consistently. One could go a step further. Aside from looking into traveling calls and moving screens, the NBA is in such a good place, not much else is needed. But, if that is the case, what is Silver looking at?

Yes the NBA carn learn a lot from the real football
NBA logo, FIFA World Cup Trophy, UEFA Champions League Logo

The second-best league in the world

Football might be the most popular sport in the world, by far. It’s also far from perfect. Like the NFL it is almost entirely run by men of a certain age and this is not conducive to change. Rule changes literally take forever to implement and any proposal is met with a lot of resistance. The Video Assistant Referee is a recent big change and was long overdue. Other than that it’s just more of the same. Thankfully, it’s not all bad. The World Cup is the biggest sporting event on the planet and for good reason. And the second-best league in the world is the UEFA Champions League. This league pits the best club teams of Europe against each other in a championship as lucrative as it is prestigious. No league is perfect but, as one of the most copied leagues ever created, the UEFA clearly did something right.


Modern football

Detractors of the UEFA Champions League often utter the phrase: against modern football. They have a problem with the commercialization of the sport. With the exponential growth of broadcasting deals the power balance within Europe and also within countries has completely shifted. Qualifying for the UCL has become such a desperate need for some, organizations no longer shy away from questionable and sometimes illegal practices, just to get the much-needed financial injection qualification brings. The UCL final, the world’s biggest annual sporting event, watched by a near 400 million people around the world, attracts oligarchs vying for team ownership. The UCL hymn is an international classic and the level of play is even higher than the world cup. International associations on different continents have created their own Champions Leagues and other sports have copied the concept as well, making it one of the most recognizable success stories in all of sports.

The mid-season tournament

As mentioned previously, the NBA has a lot going for it. League Pass was first released in the 90s, football doesn’t have an equivalent. The first female NBA referee had her first game in the 90s while in football it’s still a fairly new thing and many fans are against it. One thing that’s on Adam Silver’s wishlist is a mid-season tournament. In football practically every national league has this. It’s usually a knockout tournament where teams face each other once and the winner advances. Upsets happen because lower-tier teams can participate. Imagine Raptors 905 beating the Toronto Raptors. The majority involved in the NBA are against this idea. That makes sense. The NBA season is already overlong and there is no real incentive for teams. It’s almost impossible to fathom how much tradition and prestige these in-season tournaments have in the world of football. In some countries there are even two, running simultaneously and the FA Cup in England is 152(!) years old.

So, can the NBA learn a lot from the real football?

Great as the NBA is, there will always be room for growth. It’s applaudable for Adam Silver trying to push the envelope. Before the play-in, the majority of the league seemingly had nothing to play for anymore after the All-star break. Now, outside of a couple of teams, everyone is still in the mix until the very end. Silver is trying to add all kinds of incentives to his mid-season tournament, just to get teams open to the idea but it’s an uphill climb. One doesn’t create tradition and prestige out of nowhere. Still, the NBA is in very good hands. With an eye on FIBA and an eye on football, the NBA should be able to keep its place as one of the best if not the best league in the world. So the answer is yes. The NBA can still learn from the real football, but Adam Silver should tread carefully.