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Is the NBA In-Season Tournament working? Early returns are promising!

Jordan Brenner and Peter Keating are joined by Oddball’s Charlotte Wilder on the latest Underdogs to discuss the ultimate underdog event: the NBA In-Season Tournament!

The NBA In-Season Tournament has arrived in Las Vegas and what happens in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas, as one of four teams will get to be the first team to take home the NBA Cup.

Oddball’s Charlotte Wilder joined Peter and Jordan to talk about why the tournament is working, who’s poised to win, and why the Pacers, Pelicans, Bucks and Lakers are so invested in taking home the title.

Jordan notes that the In-Season Tournament itself is something of an underdog — a new idea in a sporting culture that doesn’t necessarily embrace new ideas. So is it working?

Charlotte notes that she just wrote a substack titled “The NBA’s In-Season Tournament Is Working.” Charlotte says her feeling about it the whole time from when this was announced was that this was an “If you built it, they will come” type of situation. She says what December basketball needed was a reason for people to care. She says by nature of it happening we were always going be talking about it unless it was just a total disaster and players super didn’t care. But, she says it’s been the opposite — everyone has been playing super hard and it has been a proving ground and a stage for players like Tyrese Haliburton, who had never been on TNT before Monday’s game vs. the Celtics.

Charlotte notes that Vegas is a spectacle unto itself and now there will be doubleheaders, and we never get this in the NBA. She’s OBSESSED guys!

Jordan says clearing the schedule to make this work and make it a showcase is great and as noted by Howard Beck recently, traditions are hard to establish. Jordan points out that European soccer has decades of these type of tournaments, but you don’t know when traditions will become traditions. Nobody set out the make everybody at Fenway Park sing “Sweet Caroline” but it just sort of happened. So some of these things have to build organically.

Peter admits he was wrong about the In-Season Tournament, noting that the NBA is GREAT with a build-up, a show, an event and something you want to see before Christmas. He also notes that an added benefit is that it should help the league as it seeks new media rights deals and that it could help double or triple the value of its streaming/TV package. It’s also great for players and emerging teams, he says, particularly great because NFL quality of play hasn’t been great and the NFL has been the only show in town. It turns out fans want to be able to watch something else and the games themselves have been compelling.

Jordan says there were a couple of obstacles that had to be overcome. First, the players had to buy in and care and by all evidence it seems they do. Jordan says an assistant coach told him of course they try to win every game, but the players know when it’s a tournament game. Peter notes that it helps that they set the money right, with Jordan noting that some of the star players are looking to do this for their teammates who could really use that $500K. Jordan says the second aspect is do the fans care and the answer appears to be yes.

Now, Jordan says that doesn’t mean there aren’t a few tweaks he would like to see. For instance, he thinks the league could do better in identifying games in the group stage. He also thinks the finals don’t need to be this early. How does Christmas in Vegas sound?

Charlotte disagrees, noting this is the time when the NBA needed it the most. She says she needed a reason to be invested in a storyline leading up to Christmas. After the Christmas games, the NBA is still competing against the NFL, but you have the Paris game on January 11 and then the NBA has center stage. She says having it in the lead-up to Christmas gets everybody locked in and jazzed earlier. She also thinks that we don’t get a game like Celtics-Pacers on a random Monday night if it’s not an In-Season Tournament game, or the Bucks go off like they did on Tuesday or we’re arguing about the refs’ decision to give the Lakers a timeout against the Suns in December if it’s not on this stage.

Jordan wants to reserve judgment until January to see if we’re still feeling the old doldrums, but Peter says the willingness to experiment in and of itself is great and you see what happens and adjust as needed. But in the meantime, he says we get to evaluate emerging teams and players to see if they’re for real a lot earlier than in the past, which is a lot of fun.

Watch or listen to the whole show below to see Jordan and Peter do what they do best, breaking down a one-and-done tournament, as well as explain why the Pacers, Pelicans, Bucks and Lakers are so invested in taking home the title. And make sure to keep an eye on the Underdogs podcast feeds on Apple and Spotify as well as the Le Batard and Friends YouTube page for future episodes!


Why LeBron Wants to Win the NBA In-Season Tournament, feat. Charlotte Wilder

  • On this week’s “Underdogs,” Jordan and Peter are joined by “Oddball” co-host Charlotte Wilder. They break down the ultimate underdog event: the NBA in-season tournament! Why it’s working, who’s poised to win, and why the Pacers, Pelicans, Bucks and Lakers are so invested in taking home the title. Plus, Charlotte sticks around to pick this week’s NFL Underdogs!

Watch the full episode below!


Be sure to check out more episodes of Underdogs on the Le Batard and Friends YouTube page and subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts! You can also follow Peter on X at @PeterKeatingNJ and Jordan at @JordanBrenner.

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