The NBA has a serious injury problem. This past season alone, without even having to do a Google search, names of stars like Gordon Hayward, John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Steph Curry and Kristaps Porzingis all come to mind as having missed significant time. Serious injuries such as ACL and MCL tears seem to have become commonplace across the league.
Nowadays, it is common for players to come into the league having played upwards of 5–10 years of serious and time-intensive basketball with a mixture of college play, high school teams and AAU. While it seems like this has led to a generation of prospects more prepared for the demands and high level of play that exists in the NBA, it also means that players are coming in with more wear and tear on their bodies than ever before. Simply put, these young athletes are playing too much basketball.
The 82-game NBA season only exacerbates this problem, and it is starting to seem more and more unnecessary. Many have become bored with the seemingly excessive length of the regular season, as the post-All-Star break games often drag out to the point that most fans lose interest. The season reaches a certain point when the top seeds of the playoffs have been set, and many teams simply start to pack it in.
Despite some changes in recent years that seem targeted at preventing the high number of injuries, like lowering the numbers of back-to-back games that teams play, choosing to play fewer games is a tough sell for NBA league officials and front offices. Each game brings in huge revenue, not only from ticket sales, but also from advertisement money and TV viewership. The NBA probably won’t give up that potential revenue willingly, but the monetary consequence might not be as large as one would think.
When star players are not playing, teams lose an incredible amount of interest. The Spurs, despite still making the playoffs, largely fell from relevance this season with Kawhi Leonard not playing after being one of the most intriguing teams over the past few years with him in the lineup. When Paul George broke his leg with USA Basketball, the Indiana Pacers became a lottery team that almost nobody talked about.
The idea that shortening the season could have prevented some of these injuries to NBA All-Stars is obviously hypothetical. There is no way to predict injuries with any large degree of accuracy, but if one can assume that a shorter season would lead to healthier players, the chances of injuries to star players must fall. Even one fewer injury could have a massive impact on that player’s free agency market.
The possibility of avoiding these injuries should be enough to mitigate the league’s concerns over the money that it might lose. Because beyond the financial concerns, the length of the NBA season has become an issue of both player safety and fan interest.