by Chris Foss
It’s time for most American professional and college sports to find some way to shorten their postseasons. We’re in the middle of the seemingly endless NBA and NHL postseasons, each of which consist of four rounds of best-of-seven series, and last for approximately two months—1/3 the length of each league’s regular season. Last year’s MLS Cup consisted of just 16 matches, but lasted seven weeks. Postseason creep has affected even the shorter postseasons. The MLB playoffs still typically last just about a month, but they now inch into November. NCAA Basketball March Madness, meanwhile, is creeping at the other end with its recent expansion in 2011 to 68 teams adding a couple of extra days to the start of the three-and-a-half week extravaganza. The College Football Playoff and the succession of “Named For a Company You’ve Never Heard Of” Bowls that have proliferated in recent years have slowly, but surely, extended the NCAA Division I football postseason to just over three weeks in length. NFL ownership has wisely resisted the temptation to expand its playoff field—for now.
Things weren’t always like this. Take the NBA, for example. After the league consolidated into two divisions in 1951, it had three rounds of playoffs: two best-of-three division semifinals, two best-of-five division finals, and a best-of-seven NBA Finals, ending the season on April 21. In 1956, the slate concluded on April 7! By the late 1960s, however, the division semifinals expanded to best-of-five, and 1968 featured the first NBA season to end in May. With expansion, the NBA realigned to four divisions in two conferences in 1970, and the playoffs swelled as well. In 1975 the NBA added a wild-card round to the playoffs, but granted byes to the top-seeded teams in each conference. In 1976 the Finals ended in June for the first time.
by Keith Aksel
Recently I had an exchange with a friend regarding fans of my newly-minted hometown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In casual text-message conversation, my Pittsburgh-loyalist compadre claimed Philly sports fans were the “worst” fans out there. Although I'm not yet a fan of my town’s teams, it struck me that this sort of claim is made all the time about fan bases. New York Yankees fans can be “raucous,” Golden State Warriors fans are “front-runners,” and all L.A. fans have “better things to do” than sports.
But can we actually distill fan bases down to such attributes? Is it really that simple to definitively say Philadelphia fans are bad, Pittsburgh fans are good, and Miami fans are just distracted? Like a good historian, I think the best response is to say that these stereotypes are always more complicated than they seem, and they might obscure as much about certain fanbases as they reveal.
As a part of our ongoing "Greatest Hits" series, we've pulled out one of our best articles from the past for your review. Today we look back at Alex's article on the rise of NBA basketball in the 1970s through Sports Illustrated's lens. Enjoy.
by Alex Langer
Throughout the 1970s, college basketball took up the lion’s share of Sports Illustrated covers until 1974. The transition happened between 1974-1976, because after 1975, SI featured the NBA seven more times than the NCAA. At the same time, the 1975 NCAA Championship was one of the highest-rated games of all time, drawing a 21.3 rating, which is almost twice as high as the most recent title game (UNC-Villanova), which only drew a 12.0. So, on the one hand, the NCAA featured more viewership, but on the other, the NBA was clearly becoming more intriguing. While the NBA may not have fully taken over in the latter half of the 70s, the pieces were put in place to ensure NBA dominance in the decades to come.
The case for NBA takeover is a complicated one. SI coverage focused primarily on the NBA, on the career of Bill Walton, who had transitioned from UCLA to the Portland Trail Blazers, and of the drama of the forthcoming NBA-ABA merger. However, no NBA World Championship Series in the 1970s broke the 10.0 average rating mark. Clearly there was a disconnect between the drama of the NBA (and journalistic interest) and the quality of the final product as perceived by fans. So what was happening in the second half of the 1970s to set the stage for NBA dominance?
by Chris Foss
In June 2016, the Wisconsin Entertainment and Sports Center broke ground; it will open for the 2018-19 NBA season for the Milwaukee Bucks. In January, the Golden State Warriors broke ground on the Chase Center, a new arena to open for the 2019-20 season; it will replace the Oracle Arena, which opened in 1966. The Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, home of the Red Wings and one-time home of the Pistons, recently hosted its last hockey game, a victim of the city’s ongoing bankruptcy litigation.
Across the NBA, it is the continuation of a big-money era which has seen the transformation of the physical landscape on which the games are played. Once the Warriors move on from Oracle, only the New York Knicks will play in an arena which predates the late 1980s, when the NBA first hit the jackpot in the wake of the Magic/Bird/Jordan era, and a new wave of ownership began building new arenas (or pushing taxpayers to provide the funds to do so).
by Keith Aksel
Baseball fans know that the Cincinnati Reds matter historically. The Queen City’s sluggers became the first all-professional club in baseball history, and some of the most important players in the game have donned the wishbone “C.” Arguably the best catcher (Johnny Bench) and hitter (Pete Rose) in the baseball history spent the bulk of their careers in Cincinnati, while modern stars like Joey Votto and Johnny Cueto all got their starts on the banks of the Ohio River.
Even with its status as one of baseball’s most cherished institutions, a strange historical cloud hangs over the Reds clubhouse. That cloud is what we historians call “selective memory,” or the tendency for people to recall events differently from how they actually took place. Sometimes little details surrounding events subsume the larger memory of those moments, and cloud the ways people remember them. For instance, fans that watch a sporting event in bad weather may recall the conditions of the field, but only vaguely remember the outcome of the game itself.
I argue that selective memory has affected the Cincinnati Reds disproportionately compared to other baseball clubs. This trend has obscured how general fans understand important events in Reds (and general baseball) history. In two of the Reds’ five World Series championship seasons, the teams Cincinnati beat seem to have dominated popular memory of those seasons. Because of selective memory, in both instances the title-winning Reds became almost a side note to events surrounding the losing team.