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Debunking negativity about the In-Season Tournament

I demand to be excited about the In-Season Tournament, so I’m taking it upon myself to make everyone agree with me

Boston Celtics v Brooklyn Nets Photo by Dustin Satloff/Getty Images

The Celtics’ inaugural run through the In-Season Tournament gets underway tonight, and I’m excited! Let’s see how the players are feeling…

“I wouldn’t choose the word ‘excited,’” said Jaylen Brown, unintentionally stepping on my feelings and crushing my dreams of being excited. He did, however, say that the team would be ready, so at least he’s feeling the competitive drive.

But Brown can sometimes sound brooding publicly, and we still love him! How about Marcus Smart, the former hype-captain of the team?

“I’m being completely honest, nobody cares about it.” Gee thanks, Marcus. I know you’re on the Grizzlies now, but I was hoping you could at least back me up on this one. Maybe it’s just a Celtics thing, so let’s consult a player with literally zero connection to Boston. Hey, Bones Hyland of the L.A. Clippers, what say you?

“I’m not even going to lie. I don’t even know what’s going on.”

(Throws notes on the floor and storms out of the room angrily)

I’m fully aware that the In-Season Tournament hasn’t exactly been well received. The NBA world had a conniption when images of the custom courts surfaced, with many Celtics fans abhorring that the team will—for the first time in history—play a game not on a parquet floor.

That’s indeed a calamity, but I think much of the negativity surrounding the tournament is totally overdone. From the courts to the structure to the age-old “why do we need this” retort, the internet has largely decided to make fun of this thing, but I won’t stand for that! I’m excited by the newness, and open to something weird and undercooked.

And because I’m petty and want everyone to agree with me, I am going to run through as many criticisms of the In-Season Tournament that I’ve seen kicking around NBA spheres and grade them on how valid I think they are.

You’ll probably be surprised to find that I at least somewhat-agree with most of these. But the nuance is the juice, so we’re going take-for-take until everyone agrees or everyone is even angrier. Buckle up.

Criticism #1: There is no incentive to win the NBA Cup

Validity Grade: C+

Maybe this grade feels aggressive considering this is by far the biggest criticism, but it's both factually wrong and conceptually unnecessary.

I’ll get the lame retort out of the way quickly: yes, there is an incentive. The players and coaches who win will receive a bonus check of $500,000, with runners-up receiving a smaller reward.

That’s not a whole lot when NBA contracts are in the hundreds of millions. Conceivably, the NBA could have added a tangible reward, such as an extra home game in the playoffs or a compensatory draft pick. I would be all for that, but I doubt that solution would be much more popular than the current reward of essentially nothing.

But I would ask those who use this argument one thing: does any trophy have a real incentive? We as a sports community decide that trophies matter, mostly for no reason other than the basic necessity that professional sports need an end goal.

The Larry O’Brien Trophy only matters because generations of NBA players, coaches, owners, and fans have collectively decided that it matters. I’m not saying the NBA Cup will or should ever hold a candle to an NBA championship, but why can’t we all decide it matters at least a little bit?

Take the FA Cup in the English Premier League, a much more famous mid-season tournament that the NBA’s version is largely based on. No soccer fan across the pond would ever say that the FA Cup matters as much as winning the Premier League, but they also wouldn’t say they don’t care about it at all.

The FA Cup champion doesn’t get an extra point towards winning the league, but Great Britain has still decided it matters. We are complicated people, capable of caring about multiple achievements at once. There doesn’t need to be a tangible incentive to make it worthwhile.

Criticism #2: The custom courts are the worst thing since unsliced bread

Validity Grade: B+

The B+ grade reflects how I still, mostly, agree with the take that these courts are an unmitigated disaster. But I took half a letter off because I’m still not ready to write them completely. Hear me out.

When I first saw these courts, my initial reaction was a mix of nauseating disgust and an unrelenting desire to call up Obi-Wan Kenobi so that he may tell whoever’s idea this was that they want to go home and rethink their life.

These courts are a lot. Modesty was thrown completely out the window in favor of a 45-gigaton nuke of color, mixed in unsettling ways and potentially causing hundreds of low-grade headaches due to their assault on the nation’s eyeballs.

But I am a creature capable of adapting to extreme conditions. I truly believe I will get used to these… things and maybe-potentially-possibly-perhaps grow to like them.

I will admit, there is something awesome about the NBA throwing caution to the wind and cranking the crazy up to 11. The jury is still out and reports say they are still pretty mad. But I’m leaving the door open a crack.

Criticism #3: The In-Season Tournament adds a game to the already super long NBA season

Validity Grade: D-

This take… man. I just do not care about this take.

Are we seriously going to get up in arms about two teams playing one extra game? This is the definition of a non-issue, used only by people who have decided to dislike the tournament and are searching for additional ammunition.

There are over 400 NBA players, and fewer than 30 will play this extra game. Moreover, isolating this experience in Las Vegas is going to be awesome, giving the NBA an exciting weekend in by far the deadest part of the regular season. Get this take out of my face.

I’m actually in favor of shortening the NBA season, as I think the beginning is situated at a weird part of the sports calendar. We could probably do with 72 games and just push the season back three weeks. But that’s never going to happen because of—brace yourself—money.

Criticism #4: This only exists to drum up TV ratings and viewership before the NBA negotiates a new media rights deal

Validity Grade: B

I’m slapping this take right in the middle with a crisp B, because it is both absolutely true and absolutely not the point.

Yes, the whole idea behind the In-Season Tournament is to spice up a generally boring part of the NBA season, presumably upping viewership and revenues, giving the league a stronger negotiating position for its new media rights deal. Ok, but what is this? Economics class?

I accepted a long time ago that professional sports were basically about money. We all know it, but that doesn’t mean we have to just complain about money and call it a day. There are plenty of elements of the In-Season Tournament that are interesting in their own right, and I refuse to let the influx of money in sports ruin my enjoyment of it.

Money is the why, but not the what. The contest doesn’t just exist as a simple profit motive, and I would urge everyone to move past that as best as they can.

Criticism #5: Was “The In-Season Tournament” the best name we could come up with?

Validity Grade: A++

This is an elite take. I’d encourage everyone to share this take with their friends, family, and household pets.

(cracks knuckles) So you’re telling me that we could paint the courts funny colors, plan a whole weekend in Las Vegas, and award several million dollars in prizes, but we couldn’t come up with a better name than “The In-Season Tournament?”

Literally anything would be better than this. “The NBA Cup” would have worked. “Midseason Madness” would have played well off of the NCAA Tournament, though I guess there are probably some copyright issues there. How about “The Battle of the Ballers,” just to get weird?

I just came up with three better ideas in 30 seconds, but somehow, the NBA landed on the blandest, most mind-numbing name possible. I would even prefer “The Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups NBA Extravaganza Spectacular.”

Anything but this mailed-in garbage. If we’re doing this, let’s go full bananas crazy.

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