LAS VEGAS (KTNV) — There’s a buzz in the air at T-Mobile Arena as some of the best players in the National Basketball Association get ready to take the court for the league’s inaugural In-Season Tournament. The Semifinals are set for Thursday.
NBA officials said the idea for the tournament has been in the works for a long time and they also saw how the WNBA rolled out their in-season tournament.
“We take a lot of inspiration from the WNBA and all of their competitive formats and, certainly, their Commissioners Cup has been a guiding light as we’ve thought about this. But this is something we’ve been working on at the NBA over the last 10 years,” said Joseph Graziano, the Senior Vice President, Head of Global Event Strategy and Development for the NBA. “How do you think about adding increased competition and competitive formats?”
NBA In-Season Tournament
According to Graziano, it’s about bringing excitement through “guaranteed Game 7s”.
“For us, there’s nothing more exciting in all of professional sports than a Game 7,” Graziano said. “[You have] the increased pressure, the tension when two teams intimately know each other and they’re playing at the highest stakes in this great competitive format.”
The tournament was announced in Las Vegas during the league’s first-ever NBA Con, which was at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in July. Since the announcement, Graziano said the tournament has been welcomed by the fans.
“We’ve seen the highest-attended month of November in NBA history. Our viewership is up almost 30%. Our digital engagement is up almost 90%,” Graziano said. “I think there’s a lot of encouraging initial indicators but I’m mostly excited for what the future of the tournament is going to bring.”
The NBA has continued to innovate and add events to the Las Vegas calendar over the year. Graziano said Las Vegas is the NBA’s “R&D hub” and it’s allowed the league to try out new ideas they think fans will like.
“For us, Vegas is home. We’ve been here almost 20 years with NBA Summer League, which is really the heartbeat of the NBA across the summer. We launched NBA Con here. We’re here now with the In-Season Tournament. This has also been the home for USA Basketball. We’re here more than 10 months of the year and, of course, we have the World Champion WNBA Aces that call this home,” Graziano said. “The NBA is a global league and we have fans from more than 30 countries and all 50 states that are coming to Las Vegas, which is an incredible global destination. [We also] have incredible support from the LVCVA, Steve Hill, and their crew. They’re just great supporters of bringing new and innovative items to las Vegas.”
With so many events coming to Las Vegas, it has prompted speculation that an NBA expansion team could call Southern Nevada home in the future.
“I think our focus is keep bringing more and more to Vegas. This is a destination that inspires our international and global fanbase and it also inspires our locals,” Graziano said. “It’s really important to us that we are focused on our fans in Summerlin, in Henderson, and all of Clark County because they are core fans and they’ve shown up for 20 years to NBA Summer League. We want to be able to use events like this to show that there are hard-core NBA fans right here in Las Vegas.”
And as for the future of the tournament, Graziano said it will be a new NBA tradition.
“Traditions take time and we’re committed to building a new tradition,” Graziano said. “I’ve been saying this is a Jeopardy! question. In 50 years from now, someone is going to ask who won the first-ever In-Season Tournament, the same way they ask about the NBA Finals or big events like the Super Bowl. Who won the first one? We’re going to find that out and I think that’s the opportunity for a team to hold up that trophy and crown themselves as the first champion. It’s truly a legacy-defining moment for our players and for our league.”
The Semifinals start on Thursday. The East Semifinal between the Milwaukee Bucks and Indiana Pacers is set for 2 p.m. Tipoff for the West Semifinal, featuring the New Orleans Pelicans and Los Angeles Lakers, is set for 6 p.m. The Championship Game is scheduled for Saturday at 5:30 p.m.