‘Lord of the Sterning’: The Fellowship of Full-Season NBA Engagement

It began with the forging of the championship rings. Three were given to the Warriors’ front office, immortal, wisest and fairest of all beings. Seven to the coaching staff, great strategists and craftsmen of Silicon Valley.

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And fifteen, fifteen rings were gifted to the players, who above all else desire power. For within these rings was bound the strength and the will to govern the NBA.

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But they were all deceived, for another ring was made. Deep in the land of Oakland, in the fires of Oracle Arena, the Dark Lord David Stern forged a master ring in secret, and into this ring he poured his lust for TV ratings, passion to drive corporate sponsorships, and his will to dominate all life. One ring, the ‘Sternring’, to rule them all.

stern

One by one, the free lands of the NBA fell to the power of the Sternring, but there were some who resisted. A last alliance of Cavaliers, Thunder, and Spurs marched against the armies of Golden State, and on the very slopes of Oracle Arena, they fought for the freedom of the Association. Victory was near, but the power of the Sternring could not be undone. It was in this moment, when all hope had faded, that LeBron James, son of Cleveland the Cavalier, took up his father’s sword.

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10

David Stern, enemy of the free peoples of the NBA, was defeated. The Sternring passed to LeBron, who had this one chance to destroy evil forever, but the hearts of men are easily corrupted. And the Sternring of power has a will of its own. It betrayed LeBron, as Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors.

isildur-dead

And some things that should not have been forgotten were lost. History became legend. Legend became myth. And for two and a half months, the Sternring passed out of all knowledge. Until, when chance came, it ensnared another bearer.

It came to the creature J.R. Smith, who took it deep beyond the velvet ropes of the rust belt.

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And there it consumed him. The Sternring gave to J.R. unnatural long partying endurance. For almost the entire Summer it poisoned his mind as he remained unsigned, and in the gloom of J.R.’s cave, it waited. Darkness crept back into the forests of the world. Rumor grew of a shadow in the East, whispers of a nameless fear, and the Sternring of Power perceived its time had come. It abandoned J.R., but then something happened that the Sternring did not intend. It was picked up by the most unlikely creature imaginable: a commissioner, Adam Silver, of Manhattan.

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In anticipation of the 2016-2017 NBA campaign, with the power of the Sternring in play, there is a story that needs to be told. A ‘Fellowship of the Sternring’, if you will…

What exactly is the Sternring and what powers does it possess? I’m glad you asked.

You see, the Sternring is as figurative as it is literal. It technically isn’t a real thing; it is a concept that the current bearer of the league (Adam Silver) has in his possession and the ability to unleash its power at any time.

While the ultimate goal has always been and will always be the Larry O’Brien trophy, the forging of the Sternring is an added dimension to the NBA world that empowers the league to compete with its biggest enemies – the NFL & tanking.

As the prologue states above, the Sternring begins in the possession of basketball’s middle-earth kings: the Cleveland Cavaliers. Until they are defeated during the 2016-2017 regular season, the Cavaliers retain possession of the Sternring. As soon as the bearers of the Sternring are defeated for the first time, the Sternring passes to the victors – and this process repeats itself until the final game of the NBA season concludes.

The team in possession of the Sternring:

  • Begins every single game with a seven-point (7-0) lead.
  • Every player on the active roster is granted an additional personal foul to use before disqualification (7).
  • All taunting technical fouls against the bearers are null and void.

As the Sternring is passed around the league throughout the season, ultimately its greatest power doesn’t take effect until the final game concludes.

Whichever NBA franchise is in possession of the Sternring after the 82nd regular season game is played:

  • If out of the playoffs, the bearer is given the opportunity to compete in a best-of-three sudden death series vs. the 8 seed in their conference for the right to play the overall top seed in the first round (teams who qualify: minimum 30 regular season wins)
  • If out of the playoffs, the bearer is guaranteed a top 3 draft pick (teams who qualify: 29 regular season wins or less and must hold the rights to their first round pick, otherwise the guarantee transfers to the franchise holding the rights to the draft selection.)
  • If in the playoffs already, the bearer holds the right to distribute to the belt to a non-playoff team of their choice.

Right about now, you’re probably asking yourself: “What the hell did I just read?” And while I can’t fault you for your confusion, what was just illustrated is the most logical solution to keeping fan bases, with teams out of the playoffs, engaged during the final months of the regular season.

At the end of the year, nearly half (14 of 30) of the NBA’s franchises will not qualify for the playoffs. Of these 14, let’s say two teams in each conference are in playoff contention and “have something [realistically] to play for” the final month of the season.

Fanbases = engaged.

Of the 10 remaining teams after that, ~2-3 are in full tank mode. Let’s not kid ourselves: fans love to support tanking. If you’re not going to win an NBA championship, the season’s “second place” winner doesn’t belong to the team who loses the finals – it goes to the team who wins the lottery. The 7-8 other remaining fan bases (keep in mind, that is ~25% of the NBA) are stuck with little rooting interest as their team doggie paddles in a mud pool of mediocrity and irrelevance. Ask fans of the Milwaukee Bucks, Sacramento Kings, Orlando Magic, and/or Denver Nuggets how engaged they are during March and April versus the passion they exerted at the beginning of the season– the answer you’ll likely receive: a huge, gradual decline.

Imagine an NBA where the the underachieving/don’t own the rights to their first round draft pick New York Knicks obtain the Sternring going into the final week of the schedule. All of sudden, the season matters … and the final two matchups are win-or-go-home games with a play-in playoff series within reach. Knicks ticket prices SOAR. TV ratings jump through the roof. Eyeballs and consumption of the product spike – all made possible because of the power of the Sternring.

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Imagine an NBA where the playoff-bound Golden State Warriors hold the Sternring and get to decide which other franchise gets the guaranteed top 3 draft selection. Imagine if they hold the rights to another team’s draft pick, choose them, and get to add a top 3 guaranteed draft pick to their already historically-great roster. What’s the strategy behind their distribution decision? Why did the Warriors give _____ the top 3 pick? Did the Warriors just change the future of the NBA for the next decade?

Imagine an NBA where every game down the stretch matters, regardless of who is playing.

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Does the Sternring reward failure? Is it essentially the Bernie Sanders economic socialism proposition of the NBA? Yeah, in a sense, it is. The 8 seed in the conference earned their right to be in the playoffs, why should they have to go through a grueling three-game play-in series against a team who got bailed out by some new, radical idea with no precedence?

Because now you’re thinking about it. The very thought of it makes you angry (or happy) depending on which side of the “8 seed deserves the right to be in the playoffs no matter what” fence you’re on. Controversy + unnecessary drama + fully-engaged customers for a longer period of time – traditional business ethics = $$$ for the NBA, and if the association ever wants to eclipse the NFL as the country’s most popular and profitable professional sports league – they’re going to have to find a way to keep every fan hooked for the ENTIRE season … not just until their team falls out of contention in March and/or they don’t have a chance at finishing with the league’s worst record.

Yeah… Fantasy, DFS, and gambling are all viable options available to fans of professional basketball – but you’re kidding yourself if you think these avenues have the same attraction to NBA fans as they do to those of the NFL…

…but don’t lie to yourself: you will check who possesses the Sternring before you check the standings. You will then check the schedules to see if it’s possible for your favorite team to obtain the Sternring before the season ends. You will consume the NBA product from start to finish.

The Sternring is the game within the game. Let it consume you. Embrace the madness.

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