NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says there could be an appetite for format changes to the NBA season, with the possibility of a soccer-style cup competition being among the most likely possibilities.

NBA Adam Silver format change
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says that there have been conceptual talks about adding a midseason tournament to the league’s schedule. (Image: Gerry Broome/AP)

Silver talked about the possibility of adding a new prize for NBA teams to play for during a phone interview with Marc Stein of The New York Times, saying that he was interested in taking inspiration from the English Premier League.

Silver: NBA Teams Want More to Compete For

Adding a cup tournament or some other major change to the schedule is only in the conceptual phase, Silver said, suggesting that such a competition wouldn’t be added anytime soon. But the commissioner told Stein that he wants to remain open to new ideas, especially those that have proven popular in other leagues.

“It’s incumbent on me to constantly be looking at other organizations and seeing what it is we can do better and learn from them,” Silver told Stein. “In the case of European soccer, I think there is something we can learn from them.”

According to Silver, both he and many team executives share the feeling that teams should have more to compete for over the course of the long NBA season.

That’s not the case for Premier League clubs in England. Along with trying to win the EPL title, they also compete in the FA Cup and the League Cup, with some teams also competing against other European teams in competitions like the Champions League or the second-tier Europa League.

Cups Add Both Rewards and Challenges

Obviously, that’s not the case in American sports, where there’s almost always only one prize: a year-end championship. The NHL does also award the Presidents’ Trophy to the team with the most points at the end of the regular season, which may be the only secondary award in any of the four major North American leagues that carries any weight – and even it ranks far, far below the Stanley Cup for teams and fans alike.

That’s a difficult tradition to overcome. But Silver noted that even the Premier League itself is quite young, showing that fans can be convinced to care about new competitions if they are carefully presented and have real stakes.

“The most watched league in the world is only 27 years old,” Silver told Stein. “So the idea that the NBA can’t create new traditions over time makes no sense to me.”

Of course, the experience of European soccer teams might also shed some light on the challenges of a new competition.

While the EPL may be relatively new, it’s really just a revamped version of England’s top soccer league. And while there are many cup competitions for clubs to play in, they don’t all carry the same weight: the FA Cup matters, but not as much as the Premier League title itself, while the League Cup is a relatively minor award. Meanwhile, the Champions League sometimes overshadows domestic play – something the NBA would likely never allow, considering its dominance in the global basketball landscape.

Teams can also face congested schedules if they are playing in too many competitions at once, such as what happened to Manchester City late in the season as the club was still chasing the potential to win four titles in a single year.

Adding a single cup tournament probably wouldn’t cause that kind of trouble for the NBA. But it could influence how such a competition was structured. Silver also acknowledged that other tournament ideas were being considered, including a play-in tournament for the final playoff spots at the end of the season.

Regardless of what the NBA decides to do in the future, Stern says, it’s unlikely that the league will maintain the status quo forever.

“I think change is inevitable,” Silver said.

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