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The Brilliance of the NBA In-Season Tournament

Harry Murphy

LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers lifting the NBA Cup after a win against the Indiana Pacers.

Since taking over from David Stern as the commissioner of the National Basketball Association, Adam Silver has had no shame in making bold moves for the betterment of the league. He began his tenure by expelling former Los Angeles Clipper’s governor, Donald Sterling, for racist remarks and continues to add new, exciting rules like flattening the draft odds, the play-in tournament, and most recently, the NBA In-Season tournament. 

Modeled after professional soccer, specifically the Premier League’s FA Cup and the UEFA Champions League, the NBA In-Season tournament features a group stage made up of six groups selected based on teams’ previous records. Five teams per group play four games in the entire group stage, two home and two away. Then, the six-group winner and two other teams with the best group records advance to a single elimination quarter-final. Each team that makes the quarter-finals will earn 50,000 dollars, and as each player wins games, the prize pool increases to 100,000 dollars, 200,000 dollars, and 500,000 dollars per person on the championship team. Beyond cash prizes, the winning team gets to lift the NBA Cup, and one player gets named the NBA In-Season Tournament MVP. 

Leading up to the inaugural In-Season tournament, many doubts were swirling around NBA spaces. Fans were most concerned with players' willingness to care about the stakes in this tournament, worrying that it would end up with the same lackadaisical attitude players come to the All-Star game with. The prize money served as more than sufficient reward, as NBA players on a minimum contract can earn nearly 50 percent more than their current salary if they win the NBA Cup. The next concern that fans held was whether or not the NBA Cup would oversaturate the already packed NBA schedule. The NBA has one of the largest regular seasons in professional sports, with an 82-game season. With the play-in and the playoffs, NBA Finals teams could play up to 112 total games. Silver foresaw this and made it so that NBA In-Season tournament games — except the final — were counted as regular-season games.

In the 2023 In-Season Tournament, the Los Angeles Lakers came out victorious over the Indiana Pacers. The cup achieved one of the main goals when it was created, to give smaller market teams more spotlight and to give fans of struggling teams more to look forward to. 

If you were a fan of European Soccer before this season, you knew that the In-Season tournament was going to be a success. More stakes and more action mean more fan interest. In its first season, the In-Season Tournament championship tripled the average 1.59 million viewers of regular season games. The question now becomes, what new thing will Silver integrate next: expansion, relegation, high school drafting, shortened regular season, international club tournaments?


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