Judging by reaction on social media, it was a huge hit, producing the kind of intense, nervy, situational basketball that we haven’t typically seen in an All-Star setting.
That the Elam Ending made the game more exciting is no surprise to anyone who has been watching The Tournament, a $2 million, winner-take-all, single-elimination event that has cultivated a niche following on the summer basketball scene the last few years. Beyond eliminating the typical end-of-game pattern where the winning team is trying to run out the clock and the trailing team commits foul after foul in the final minute hoping for a miss, it adds a layer of strategy and pressure to how those final possessions are going to play out.
That’s not to suggest Nick Elam, the Ball State professor who came up with the original formula for the scoring system, has changed basketball forever. I wouldn’t expect to see the Elam Ending in the Final Four or the NBA Playoffs any time soon.
But hopefully what happened Sunday will open some minds to more experimentation and innovation. Basketball needs it.
As great as the game is now, it’s important to remember that none of these sports were handed down on stone tablets from Mount Sinai. Just because we have known something to be one way doesn’t mean it’s the best way.
Pilots don’t fly planes the same way they did 50 years ago. Doctors learn new surgical techniques if they discover a more effective one. Everything in life evolves. Why should sports be any different?
In the end, the NBA, like all professional sports, is an entertainment product. The league’s most important job is figuring out how to deliver that product in the way that engages the most people and inspires them to keep watching.
Is the Elam Ending a part of that in the future? Who knows.
It wasn’t perfect. Team LeBron beat Team Giannis on a free throw to reach the winning score, which some fans found anti-climactic. That’s fair, though that isn’t any different than the way most NBA games end, where a free throw (after a whole bunch of other free throws in the final minute) puts the game out of reach.
But whether or not you like this specific solution to the typical end-of-game slog we see at both the pro or college level is almost beside the point. There’s arguments on both sides.
Hopefully, though, the fundamental change that happens as a result of Sunday’s finish is NBA fans becoming less doctrinaire about the so-called “sanctity of the game” and more willing to see the league experiment with all kinds of things.
Maybe some changes will work. Maybe some won’t. In the end, it’s just a game. There’s no downside to taking risks.
If anything, stagnation is more likely to hurt a sport’s popularity than backlash for trying something different. In this era, where athletes and sports scientists have become more sophisticated than the original dimensions of most games, it would be unwise to look at every possible innovation with a closed mind.
Not every idea will be great, of course.
NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s proposal for an in-season tournament, an event that would mimic European soccer, fell flat with players and front offices largely because it’s difficult for an American audience to buy into the meaning of a championship that isn’t the real championship. It’s not part of our culture.
But why shouldn’t some other ideas be on the table? Different season lengths. Different playoff configurations. Maybe instead of players shooting multiple free throws, they should get one shot worth two points. Given how well some Steph Curry-inspired young players shoot from distance these days, is a four-point line worth a try? All of it should be on the table if it makes basketball more fun.
Some critics called the All-Star ending a gimmick. If that’s what it was, so what? It was a good gimmick that we should probably see more of — and not just in the All-Star Game.
But remember this the next time the NBA proposes something that seems radical: Just because James Naismith didn’t invent it doesn’t mean it’s a bad idea.