I don’t mean to startle you, but the NBA season is about to begin. Like, immediately. The Boston Celtics are hosting the Philadelphia 76ers on Tuesday in a game that will count toward their regular season records. It seems like just yesterday that J.R. Smith was inexplicably running down the clock at the end of a tied Finals game. It practically was yesterday, and he’d still be dribbling if LeBron James hadn’t yelled at him. LeBron is on the Lakers now, by the way. If you were hoping for some time to process the image of him in gold, Jerry West–era short shorts, you’re out of luck. The season starts now.
Don’t get me wrong, I love basketball. I thoroughly enjoy having multiple games to look forward to each night. But I am just not ready for the NBA season to start yet. I fear watching Kyrie Irving play right now will give me the bends. Give me a few weeks, please.
If this seems early, it’s because it is early. For much of its recent history, the NBA didn’t tip off until at least the end of October. There’d be a couple marquee curtain-raisers on or around Halloween, and the rest of the league would begin in earnest at the start of November. The timing was perfect. The sun set early, the air would be cold, and a prime-time basketball game radiated more warmth than any crackling fire. But a mid-October tipoff? Daylight savings time doesn’t end until next month, and much of the country is still experiencing T-shirt weather. While that has more to do with our global climate crisis than the NBA’s scheduling quirks, I’d still prefer it if the regular season didn’t feel as rushed as our planet’s imminent demise.
The NBA first changed to a mid-October tipoff last season in order to aerate the schedule. In the 2014–15 season, teams had, on average, 19.3 back-to-back games a season. In this upcoming season, the average has gone down to 13.3 back-to-backs. No team will play four games in five nights, a logjam that used to be relatively commonplace and resulted in sloppy, tired play.
A spaced-out schedule is a good thing, but it could be achieved either by reducing the number of games (which should happen, but won’t) or by stretching the season later into the summer, when it would conflict only with quadrennial swim meets. Contrast that with Tuesday’s slate of NBA action, which goes up against the MLB playoffs. Setting aside my own selfish reasons for wanting a later tipoff, it’s terribly cruel to make the Milwaukee Brewers compete with Kevin Durant and Steph Curry for the country’s attention.
The NBA used to start just as I was getting desperate for basketball. Now, it feels like I’m running out of time to study for an exam. Elton Brand is the general manager of the 76ers? Jimmy Butler is actually going to play for the Timberwolves after he burned the organization to smoldering cinders? Kyrie Irving admits the Earth is round?
Welcome back, NBA. Please excuse the mess, I wasn’t expecting company.