When the COVID-19 pandemic forced the NBA to end its regular season two months early, commissioner Adam Silver came up with the idea to create a play-in tournament for teams to compete for a spot in the playoffs. The tournament took place in the Disney World bubble, which saw players from 22 teams take up residence at many of the park’s resorts for at least six weeks.
The players competed in the tournament, which was formatted like a modified playoff competition. The league adopted the format the following year to incorporate into their season. Now in the 2022 season, a total of 24 teams will compete in the playoffs and play-in tournament, one of the largest postseason fields in NBA history. Earlier this April, the tournament was in full swing and helped earn the Minnesota Timberwolves, the New Orleans Pelicans, the Atlanta Hawks and the Brooklyn Nets spots in the playoffs as the seventh and eighth seeds in their respective conferences.
In dramatic fashion, the Timberwolves managed to knock out the widely favored Los Angeles Clippers, who are led by Paul George, at home in Minnesota in front of their fans. The game was Minnesota’s first playoff game in four years. The post-game celebrations among fans and players exhibited pure euphoria, as the community was genuinely excited to be back on the upswing after many years of turmoil.
In the east, the Atlanta Hawks entered the tournament hoping to find their way into the playoffs, having to win two consecutive games to earn one of the final two seeds. Unlike the Timberwolves, who had ended the year in the seventh seed position, the Hawks finished the year in ninth. After some heroics from their star point guard Trae Young, Atlanta was able to beat both the Charlotte Hornets and Cleveland Cavaliers en route to earning the eighth seed.
The viewership numbers were down from last year’s play-in since that season featured LeBron James and Anthony Davis’s Lakers trying to repeat as NBA Champions, against the greatest shooter in NBA history, Steph Curry, and his star-studded Warriors team. This year, even though the viewership numbers were lower, it was still a captivating tournament, where it was clear that the players in the competition and the fans in attendance enjoyed competing to earn a playoff spot.
Every single game of the play-in was a sellout for the hosting team, nearly mirroring the numbers a playoff game brings in both atmosphere and intensity. The addition of more playoff-style games is something all sports fans want, and other leagues should look to the NBA as an example of how to improve on an already successful idea. Not only is the play-in tournament something fans can enjoy, but will also bring in added revenue from the extra sell-out games and the opportunity for teams to get a second chance to get into the playoffs.
Major League Baseball was another one of the major leagues to expand their postseason in 2022. They added two more teams to their initial ten-team playoff field and eliminated the Wild Card games in exchange for three-game series to decide the remaining spot. Just two years ago, the NFL also expanded its playoff field to 14, with meaningful games happening across the league and culminating in one of the most historic (and profitable) seasons in NFL history in 2021.
The MLB, NFL and NBA’s expansions have shown what expanded playoffs can do for leagues across the country. The NHL hasn’t changed their playoff format, leaving bevies of talented squads to miss out on the postseason. This year, both the Vancouver Canucks and the Las Vegas Golden Knights run the risk of missing the playoffs, with the Knights nearly putting up 90 points so far on the season The NHL could certainly see benefits from letting these squads compete for the playoffs.