If you happen to be of an age when the AARP annually seeks your membership dues, you might well remember playing on a sports team in your youth that didn’t hand out trophies simply for just showing up. There was a time-worn formula in place to help determine the best. If your team beat other teams in your league more times than they beat you, you were crowned champions. Everyone understood those were the rules, and while there were always chagrined runners-up, you had to win something to . . . well . . . win something.

I mention that system of gamesmanship now mainly because the National Basketball Association has begun its annual playoff series to determine a 2022 champion. And things have changed since those halcyon days of yore. The teams with the best records don’t necessarily win any more.

There are 30 teams in the NBA. With outstanding players on every team. When you’re watching an NBA game, you’re watching magicians handle a basketball and do things with it few, if any, hardcourt weekend warriors could (or should) even attempt. The league is divided up into two conferences. Logic might dictate that the team with the most wins during the regular season in the Eastern Conference should play their counterpart team in the Western Conference. The best playing the best.


Each conference is divided up into three divisions. So, you might think, well, okay, maybe the division winners would play each other to determine the best team in the whole league, right?


Of the 30 NBA teams, 20 of them make it to the playoffs. That means every team has played a grueling 82-game regular season schedule that began in October and has just concluded in April, and only one-third of them are done. You don’t even have to win a majority of your regular season games to keep playing. This year, for example, the San Antonio Spurs finished 34-48. They lost 14 more games than they won – and made it to the playoffs. Which means, c’mon, you’ve got to be a pretty lousy team to go home after the regular season. (Maybe those teams get participation trophies to help ease their humiliation.)

Without going into too many details, this year in the NBA, there’s a play-in tournament. That’s followed by four rounds of best-of-seven series. A team that played in every possible playoff game could end up tacking on an additional 29 or even 30 games to their season. (It’s no wonder so many players get hurt.) Why even have a regular season?

By the way, in the NBA, that kind of “everybody gets to play” nonsense has been going on forever. Back in 1960, when there were only eight teams in the whole league, six of them made it to the playoffs. It’s no wonder kids playing sports today think they should get a trophy simply for wearing their uniforms correctly.

The National Hockey League is similar. Of the 32 total NHL teams, 16 make the playoffs. Once again, a team doesn’t have to win any specific division or conference. It can still get in the post-season and could conceivably end up beating another team that actually won more games in the regular season.

The National Football League has jumped on the bandwagon as well. But only a mere 14 of the 32 teams make its playoffs. As with the other leagues, though, there’s always the possibility that an NFL team that lost more games than it won during the regular season could end up being crowned champions for the year.

Major League Baseball is trying its best to mirror the other professional entities. For the better part of a century, the World Series each year featured the winner of the American League facing the winner of the National League. This year, 12 of the 30 teams will be eligible to be in the post-season. Not quite as bad as the others but give MLB time. They’ll get there.

Why is this happening? We all know the answer to that. M-O-N-E-Y. Each of the leagues has found a great way to fleece their fans even more than they already do during regular seasons. Somebody has to pay those exorbitant player salaries, and Budweiser and Geiko gecko ads on TV can’t do it alone. So, the leagues tack on bunches of extra games to extend that revolving turnstyle at the gate as long as possible.

What’s next? Year-round NBA, NHL, NFL, and MLB? Shoot, with travel teams the kids are already playing their chosen sports just about all 12 months. Why not the pros? (You KNOW they’ve thought about it.)

©MMXXII. William J. Lewis, III – Freelance Writer