How to improve basketball

Tim Miano writes to me:

I am a longtime MR reader. I have a hypothesis about how basketball could be much more exciting, and I can't for the life of me figure out why people who are into sports haven't widely considered it (as least as far as I know).

Here is my simple thought: games should be played as best 4 out of 7 periods — perhaps 7 minutes each or perhaps slightly varied period lengths, 6 – 8 minutes long. Maybe the number or usage of timeouts or foul-outs would need to be fiddled with. Maybe playoffs would be slightly different. But that's pretty much it. The best part of a basketball game is almost always the last few minutes, and it seems like the incentives for exciting play would persist more throughly under this design. Teams would need more endurance and deeper benches, but that seems like a good thing. Other than obsoleting old records and the tradition of the game, I can't think of any downside. Maybe marginal cost v. marginal benefit, à la owners/players wouldn't extract much more money from fans but would have to work harder? Maybe the length of games would vary too much for broadcasters to be happy? But still, a *much* more exciting game.

My Hansonian observation is that fans seem to prefer basketball seasons with a dominant player (Jordan) or perhaps a dominant match-up (the old Lakers vs. Celtics rivalries).  For the season as a whole, we don't seem to want too much suspense.  Does suspense distract us?  Are we really more interested in multi-tasking?  Or does suspense make it harder to affiliate with the idea of truly skilled and noble players?  If we are suspicious about having too much "suspense" across the course of the season (call it parity, if you wish), might we be suspicious about having too much suspense in the course of a single game?

What's so great about suspense anyway?

Here is Jeff Ely on related issues.


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