The NBA All-Star Game and The Basketball Tournament have already introduced their versions of this innovative end-game format. Boardroom has a few ideas for who could be next.
Stephen Curry hit an NBA All-Star Game record 16 threes on Sunday night, but the last play of the game belonged to LeBron James. At 37 years old, LeBron is still that local kid from northeast Ohio, and his turnaround, one-legged, fadeaway jumper to win the game put the perfect cap on his homecoming weekend.
If he had made that shot in almost any other setting, it would have just been a run-of-the-mill highlight-reel shot that only the best players can make feel ordinary — but it wasn’t. It was a game-winner, and by merely adding a running clock to the game, it likely wouldn’t have happened at all.
That moment came thanks to the NBA’s take on the Elam Ending — the innovative end-of-game format that has seen success with every prominent event that has adopted it.
For the uninitiated, the Elam Ending’s purpose is to eliminate excessive fouling and teams dribbling out the clock, slowing the game down.
It first gained mainstream attention when The Basketball Tournament adopted it in 2017, putting this method on ESPN during the dog days of summer. In 2020, it hit the NBA All-Star Game, and on Sunday gave us that classic LBJ moment.
What is the Elam Ending and How Does it Work?
- At a predetermined time, the game clock shuts off. Usually, this is with a few minutes left, but in the All-Star Game, it’s the start of the fourth quarter.
- The two teams then play to a target score, which is determined by taking the leading team’s current score and adding a predetermined number.
- FOR EXAMPLE: In The Basketball Tournament, the target score is the winning team’s total plus eight. So if Overtime Elite is leading Carmen’s Crew 70-65 when the clock is turned off, the first team to hit 78 points would win. On Sunday, the NBA simply played the first to 24 in the fourth quarter.
- By doing this, there is no need to foul, no clock to drain, and every game ends on a walk-off basket.
We’ve seen enough classic moments, and the Elam Ending has become popular enough that it’s time to try it on more important stages. We don’t need to throw it into the Final Four or NBA Finals just yet, but it’s worth seeing where else it could work.
Here are a few events that could make for logical next steps in the ongoing expansion of the Elam Ending:
The NBA Play-In Tournament
Let’s be honest: The NBA Play-In Tournament is already a gimmick. Boiling an 82-game season down to one single-elimination opportunity for teams ranked seventh through tenth in each conference is the definition of manufactured drama. So let’s add a little more.
Let’s give an arena of 20,000 screaming Raptors fans the opportunity to lose their minds over Fred VanVleet shooting Toronto into the next round.
Oh, and you know you would put a few bucks on a prop bet for which player hits the game-winner. Just think of the amusing parlays that sportsbooks would jump at offering — the same player making the first and last shot, the Elam-ender being a free throw, hitting the over on the game-winning shot… the possibilities are endless.
We may look back one day and realize that it was inevitable.
Athletes Unlimited Basketball
Athletes Unlimited has already completely reimagined how we think about team sports, so adding another innovative element to its basketball league is more than just logical. It feels right.
Remember: in AU leagues, there are no set teams, per se. Players are scored based on individual and team performances, and the athletes at the top of the leaderboard each week serve as captains for the following week.
Throwing in the Elam Ending would add elements that you never even thought about in other leagues. Players can earn more points toward their individual totals by hitting game-winners. Maybe some team captains would think even more about clutch ability when drafting their teams. It also adds a revenge factor — think about sinking a dagger jay right in the face of the team captain that passed on you.
With a handful of current WNBA stars participating in Athletes Unlimited Basketball, this could even be a good test run for whether the Elam Ending could succeed in the W as well if the league happened to implement it into, say, the Commissioner’s Cup. More on that below!
The WNBA Commissioner’s Cup
This is another instance of a league building on its existing innovative ideas.
First, the obvious downside: Commissioner’s Cup games count toward the regular season standings and players aren’t likely to agree to regular season games that use different rules than others. Perhaps at the start, the Elam Ending only applies to the championship game. Even though that’s not a “true” regular season game, players are competing for a pool of prize money, so we’re going to get a true effort from all sides.
This game is also as much of an event as exists in the WNBA regular season. In 2021, the WNBA used the competition as a platform for holding important conversations around player activism and social justice. It also experimented with new tracking technology via wearable products to produce a more informative streaming broadcast.
There will be no more prominent opportunity outside of the playoffs to get the Elam Ending in front of a wide audience to see if it really works.
The NIT & WNIT
The National Invitation Tournament has long been the guinea pig event for NCAA rule changes. Experimental NIT rules have included playing quarters instead of halves, using a 30-second shot clock in the men’s game, moving the three-point line back, and using a wider lane.
After trying all those tweaks, the NCAA has adopted quarters in the women’s game, the 30-second shot clock in the men’s game, and a further three-point line in both.
The advantage to experimenting with the NIT: These are meaningful postseason basketball games that have no impact on the national championship picture. That means you’re guaranteed to get teams actually trying harder than some sort of exhibition game, but we do need to be honest: The NIT doesn’t matter much.
College basketball could probably benefit from the Elam Ending even more than in the pros given a 30-second shot clock vs. 24 seconds, as well as in-game atmospheres that, when buoyed by thousands of “well-hydrated” college students, could dwarf anything an NBA arena could produce.
An added bonus on the men’s side: putting the Elam Ending in the NIT means the semifinals and finals will end on walk-offs at Madison Square Garden — a venue made for the big moment.
So give it a shot here. If the fans, coaches, and players don’t like it, scrap it.
But keep this in mind: the Juwan Howard incident last weekend never would have happened if Michigan and Wisconsin were playing to a target score.