By Jared Max
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The NBA is like a guy who is eighty pounds overweight and just started a diet; it is too soon to look in the mirror to see change. It is critical to note, however that a call to the engine room has been made, and the ship is prepared to alter its course. Unless the league, though, is serious about cleaning up its cluttered house, Sunday’s experiment in Brooklyn will have been like a bedroom closet emptied for the first time in 10 years, only to have 99 percent of its contents returned to its resting place.

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Don’t stop now, Adam Silver.

Two days ago, the NBA conducted an experiment, shortening the length of a preseason game between the Nets and Celtics by four minutes. Each quarter lasted 11 minutes instead of 12. There were two fewer mandatory timeouts. Intermission between halves was reduced from 15 minutes to 14. The goal was to gauge whether the game’s flow could be improved for the viewer while taking less toll on players’ bodies who, in theory, would be worked the equivalent of seven fewer games if there were 82 four-minute chunks eliminated over the course of a season.

In actual time, Sunday’s exhibition at Barclay’s Center lasted one hour and 58 minutes — 17 minutes shorter than the average NBA game last season. The players said they barely noticed a difference. This is wonderful news. This tells me that the NBA is like the portly fellow who is changing his eating habits and does not feel like he is starving. Still, the game is far from reaching an NFL game-like standard of near-cover-to-cover excitement There is much fat to be trimmed before our greatest professional basketball league’s games are sculpted and cut like many of its players’ bodies.

Every Saturday and Sunday morning, it feels like an NBA game when I drive from my home in northern New Jersey to the CBS radio station headquarters in downtown Manhattan. The first 25 to 30 minutes are uninterrupted, mostly. But, once I drive past 57th Street, the West Side Highway becomes like the final two minutes of an NBA game. Start. Stop. Start. Stop. Wait. Start. Stop. Repeat cycle. Lengthy traffic lights at 4 a.m. can be as unnecessary and obtrusive as fouls and timeouts at the end of most games.

While some people (mostly non-baseball fans) complain that America’s Pastime has a pace-of-game problem, most baseball fans will argue that it is meant to be slow, like a good cigar. Yes, all the futzing in between pitches needs to be addressed. Batter-by-batter pitching changes in the middle innings of mid-season games is usually maddening. By and large, though, this un-timed game keeps a consistent flow. All nine innings are important.

The painfully inconsistent pace of NBA games has been apparent for decades. In George Carlin’s 1986 TV movie “Playin’ With Your Head,” the late comic genius suggested ways he’d improve the flow and excitement of basketball games. “You know what you do? You have a two-second shot clock. As soon as that ball is in bounds, get that (thing) up in the air. I didn’t come to watch a game of catch. I’m looking for a four- or five-hundred-point ball game! I want six overtimes and 1,000 points on the board! Also, for 10 feet on either side of the center court line, I would have a gasoline fire. You talk about the fast break, you’d really see the fast break. And, I would allow 25 points for any ball that goes in the basket off another guy’s head.”

While Carlin was kidding (mostly), I am serious about the following changes that I would experiment with if I were commissioner of the NBA.

1. In the final 90 seconds of a game, any player intentionally fouled would be awarded three free throws. This would minimize the myriad of meaningless fouls that players commit with lotto-like odds at actually changing the game’s outcome.

2. When a game reaches its final minute, each team would be stripped of all its remaining timeouts, except for one 20-second stoppage. TV timeouts would be limited to the time it takes between an NHL icing call and an ensuing faceoff.

3. Referees would be instructed to blow their whistles for every traveling infraction. The NBA is the only of our major pro sports leagues less disciplined than its inferior ranks — from youth hoops to the NCAA. The adjustment process could be uncomfortable to many players, but, in the long run the game would profit as a tighter ship.

4. I would raise the basket. I’d experiment with rims that are 11 feet tall as well as 10 1/2 feet. While players have developed their shooting science based a hole 10 feet from the ground, I am curious to see how they would fare aiming at a higher hoop. Again, this is experimental. And most players are not like you and me. They don’t need to stand on a chair to change a light bulb; 11 feet to LeBron James is like 10 feet to me.

I know that it would never happen, but, for argument’s sake, would you mind if NBA quarters lasted only five minutes? The games would feature basketballs-to-the-wall intensity from the opening tip through the final buzzer as if they were Stanley Cup playoff Game 7’s. Too much? How about eight-minute quarters? Don’t tell me that the extra four minutes are needed in each quarter to determine the better team on a given night. Or, how about 10-minute quarters — can we compromise there? Forty minutes of basketball would replicate the college game, where NBA players were groomed.

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Like many who grew up in our metropolitan area, I never became a college sports fanatic. But every spring during the opening rounds of the NCAA basketball tournament, I am riveted by the end-to-end pace of the games. The final minutes are played with minimal stoppages. The same is to be said for college football. If Saturday night’s Florida State-Notre Dame game was an NBA contest, it is likely I would have turned off the TV. Instead of watching the game in real-time — mentally playing out scenarios while the seconds ticked away — I might have missed the ending, distracted by doing something else during a timeout.

The fact that there was discussion at a recent NBA coaches meeting about improving game flow should make sports fans giddy. The NBA seems to recognize that its product tends to be like lumpy pancake batter — chunky, not consistent. Sticks in the mud. Acorns buried between leaves. Anything but a good smoke, as my father used to argue.

As kids, riding in the car with my father puffing away on a long and fat Te-Amo Presidente, my brother and I used to plead with our cigar aficionado dad to lower his window. Frustrated, he’d tell us, “The cigar doesn’t smoke well if there’s too much wind.” While those dense smells remain a love-hate sense memory, I am grateful to understand the cigar metaphor as it relates to the flow of a game.

While we are far from witnessing great changes in the NBA, we should be enthralled about the willingness for change. If NBA games were shortened, it could open the door to other sports examining its product, open to bettering their games. Do we really need 82 games in a regular season? Do we need 162 games in baseball? Does the NFL need four preseason opportunities for players to get seriously injured? If the NBA leads by example, dismissing the “What about the all-time statistics?” argument, it could inspire other leagues to abandon their crutches based on history and become more digestible to today’s fans.

If I were Adam Silver, I would be relentless in my attempts to make changes. I’d order the largest bucket of golf balls at the driving range and throw every piece of dung at the wall to see what sticks. I would create an iTunes playlist containing only two songs that would play on a loop. As Fleetwood Mac is reminding us during their umpteenth reunion tour, I would heed the message, “Don’t Stop thinking about tomorrow.” And, like Steve Perry has been shouting from the stands at Giants game at AT&T Park, “Don’t Stop Believin’.”

If I were Adam Silver, I would study a mantra credited to many, which traces back to 1657. French mathematician and philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, “I have made this longer than usual because I have not had time to make it shorter.”

Dear Mr. Commissioner,

Please make it shorter. Brevity is the soul of wit.


Jared Max

P.S. If I had more time, I’d write you a shorter letter.

Jared Max is a multi-award winning sportscaster. He hosted a No. 1 rated New York City sports talk show, “Maxed Out” — in addition to previously serving as longtime Sports Director at WCBS 880, where he currently anchors weekend sports. Follow and communicate with Jared on Twitter @jared_max.

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