The NBA’s move to take a page from European soccer’s book will take full flight on Friday.
The long-awaited and much-discussed NBA In-Season Tournament begins with seven games, commencing a five-week tournament that will conclude with a Final Four-style event set for Las Vegas. Teams will compete for the new NBA Cup and a prize pool of about $18 million. Games will be concentrated on Tuesdays (except Election Day) and Fridays.
As growing hype for the event has even included Las Vegas’ $2.3 billion Sphere venue, the league’s aspirations for the tournament were clear from the jump: to inject more excitement into the regular season and deploy a competition model more closely matching the NBA’s global profile.
Questions remain on how the tournament will stand alongside the regular season, but even some of the league’s most outspoken figures and toughest critics have sensed a palpable excitement.
“All these guys are very competitive. It doesn’t matter which team,” said San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “They’ve been competitive all their lives to reach this level of basketball. If you put something out there like this, it just adds to that competitiveness and really signals what might happen toward the end of the season.”
The league has unveiled a unified set of court designs for the NBA In-Season Tournament games, a deliberate move to distinguish these games from other regular-season ones. The effort marks the first time the league has implemented an alternate court for all 30 teams, even overhauling the famed parquet floor of Boston’s TD Garden.
Tournament games will be shown on a mix of national and local carriers, including ESPN, TNT, NBA TV, Bally Sports, and team-based, over-the-air carriers.
“Look, if it doesn’t work, I’ll probably talk about it, but I’m a fan of what’s happening right now,” said ESPN analyst and former NBA player J.J. Redick. “The [postseason] Play-In Tournament has been, I think, one of the best things that has happened in recent years to the NBA, and I would expect this to be a success, as well.”