Tip-Off Timer: Are 82 Games Too Many?
The number 82 wasn't always the magic number in the NBA. It just seems that way.
Although the length of the playoffs and the number of teams has grown dramatically in the last 42 years, not since the Philadelphia 76ers won the NBA title in 1967 has the NBA schedule (aside from the lockout season) had anything other than 82 games.
"Not sure the significance of the number, but everyone has just gotten used to seeing 82 on the schedule,'' said Matt Guokas (pictured), a rookie forward on that 76ers championship team that played only 81 regular-season games that year. "It makes for a long season, but everyone is compensated so well, you don't want to be out there complaining about it.''
How many times have you heard that the 82-game regular season -- described as a marathon -- is too long? The physical strain of playing on back-to-back nights, of playing four games in five nights, is often what leads to injuries that leave the stars in street clothes, or leaves players two steps slow getting back on defense.
"In a perfect situation, maybe going to 72 games, not playing so many back-to-backs, you'd probably get better quality through the course of a season,'' Guokas said. "But 82 has worked pretty well.'''
With the league and the union beginning negotiations on a new collective bargaining agreement, the timing might be perfect to examine shortening a season that now starts in October and doesn't end until the NBA Finals nine months later.
The problem is that neither the players nor the owners -- especially not in these economic times -- will voluntarily give up the revenue that would be lost by losing games. A typical NBA team makes an estimated $1 million in ticket revenues alone for each home game. An average NBA player, based on a $5 million annual salary, makes $61,000 per game.
"Cutting revenues is not something that anyone will agree to,'' said former NBA player Danny Schayes, whose father Dolph Schayes played from 1948 to 1963 and reached the Basketball Hall of Fame. "In my dad's day, they usually played around 72, but that's because the travel was so difficult then. What they do now isn't that bad. We played 82, and sometimes played on three consecutive nights. They don't have to do that anymore.''
For a historical perspective, the NBA (then the Basketball Association of America) opened with a 60-game schedule for the 1946-47 season. By 1958-59, it was an eight-team league with a 72-game schedule. By 1961-62, there were nine teams and an 80-game schedule.
The league went from 81 to 82 for the first time in 1967-68 because the league had expanded to 12 teams after adding Seattle and San Diego. With so few teams and so many games, it was easy to create rivalries. The Celtics played the Knicks nine times in the regular season.
In an earlier era, when travel was tougher and the game was more physical, coaches used their reserves more than they do today. Everyone was getting paid and most everyone played, which lessened the wear and tear on the stars.
Today there are 30 teams, still 82 games, and no one play anyone more than four times in a season, which lessens the chance of a rivalry developing.
"A lot of veterans today artificially make the schedule shorter by taking nights off,'' Schayes said. "I just don't think it's feasible from a business standpoint to cut out games. That won't happen. If the season seems too long, then the coaches just need to use their benches a little more."