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NBA Considering WNBA and G League Tested In-Season Tournament

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NBA Considering WNBA and G League Tested In-Season Tournament

The NBA seems to be on the verge of announcing an in-season tournament. Fans can look to the WNBA Commissioner’s Cup for what that might look like.

“We think there’s a model where we can do that. Not increase games, but make certain games within the season are more meaningful and create a real valuable competition within the competition,” NBA deputy commissioner and COO Mark Tatum said at the 2022 SBJ Congress of Sports.

According to Tatum, the new in-season tournament could occur in November or December. “We’re still working on the timing, but somewhere in season where it would make sense and there’s an opportunity for us to gain some attention around that particular competition,” he said.

Amazon vice president of global sports video Marie Donoghue was also on the panel and noted that this model already exists in the WNBA.

First announced in May 2021, the WNBA Commissioner’s Cup is played between all 12 teams for a shared $500,000 final prize. Eleven days after that announcement, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski wrote that the NBA was “eager to restart the conversation with its teams and the players’ association about adding a midseason tournament to the league’s calendar.”

Later that year, the G League announced it was revamping its Winter Showcase to serve as a league wide in season tournament as well.

“One of the things with the WNBA and with the G league is we’re able to test certain of these concepts and it really has created an additional fan engagement with the WNBA,” Tatum said.

NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s interest in revamping the NBA calendar dates back to 2016 and the admission that the WNBA has been used along with the G League as a “testing grounds” for those ideas is an interesting one.

WNBA sets trends for NBA

For many familiar with the WNBA, seeing the league set trends that the NBA and G League eventually follow isn’t new.

In 2016, the WNBA unveiled a new playoff format disregarding conference standings, after Silver expressed the “need to make [the same] change” in the men’s league.

More recently, the WNBA announced a shift toward positionless voting for all-league teams on Aug. 5. This came after Silver said that the NBA was considering the same approach in June.

New revelations in the interconnected nature of the men’s and women’s basketball leagues help inform a recent conversation on LeBron James’ “The Shop” between three-time WNBA MVP Lisa Leslie, Draymond Green and James.

Leslie, when asked about what she’d like to see change in the WNBA, answered “the league is rocking.” Which it absolutely is. The WNBA finished the 2022 regular season delivering its most-watched regular season in 14 years along with records for fan engagement.

Still, she conceded that she would like to see the pay gap between the NBA and WNBA change. “One player that makes maybe 12 million on the NBA team could cover like the whole WNBA salary” Leslie said.

Social reactions to this discussion widely focused on Draymond’s response that the lack of appreciation for NBA players “pisses him off,” along with Leslie’s acknowledgement that NBA players are the WNBA’s “No. 1 allies” she feels are not utilized enough.

A more illuminating exchange happened later. After LeBron shared that he feels the WNBA makes it difficult for NBA players to support the W, the conversation closed with laughter about the league making a “major mistake” with important WNBA play broadcasts conflicting with the NFL.

Everyone in the conversation agreed that this should change in the interest of visibility for the WNBA’s best games. If the NBA is already using the WNBA to “test” ideas, maybe a more equitable exchange of ideas between leagues at an executive level is possible.

To start, maybe the NBA can take a page from the WNBA’s book and award its new in-season tournament MVP with a comically small trophy to match the one WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert presented WNBA champion Kelsey Plum this year after the Commissioner’s Cup.

A trophy bigger than the one held by Kelsey Plum would likely be given out for an in-season tournament in the NBA, which the league is reportedly working to adapt. (David Banks-USA TODAY Sports)

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