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Elam Ending Sets Up TBT Thrillers, New Model for the Game

Elam Ending Sets Up TBT Thrillers, Alternate Model for the Game

Last night, Carmen’s Crew, largely compromised of Ohio State alums, defeated the Golden Eagles, Marquette’s alumni squad, 66-60, in The Basketball Tournament championship, claiming the $2 million prize as the event’s winner.

William Buford, sinking a pair from the stripe as the crowd went wild, secured the money in an ending you won’t see in many other games.

The Basketball Tournament (TBT) has played with a different ending than traditional basketball since 2017 and expanded its usage in 2018. The Elam Ending, named after its creator, Nick Elam, has given the tournament a twist that separates it from the rest of the hoops world.

Perhaps more importantly, though, it gives us an opportunity to watch Elam’s extravagant ending play out with professionals on the court.

The final stretch of basketball games can be a painful experience. Trailing teams hack away in desperation, stopping my clock the only way they can, while leading teams hold the ball and stop playing the same offense that gained them the advantage. The attractive, high-intensity play that glued fans to their seats for the first 38 minutes disappears in the final two.

Elam, a long-time hoops enthusiast, pondered how to solve this problem. In 2007, he came up with the idea of turning off the game clock near the end of regulation, then setting a target score for both teams to aspire toward for victory based on adding a set number of points to the leading team’s score. It wouldn’t be until 2017 when TBT embraced his concept that it would be put into practice, but now after its utilization in three editions of the event, it is gaining steam in the general basketball zeitgeist.

I attended the early-round games in the Columbus Region, held at the Capital Center Performance Arena on the campus of Capital University, and for the first time, watched the Elam Ending live. I was fortunate enough to witness a game-winning put-back dunk in transition in the second round that lifted Red Scare over Mid-American Unity in what had been an insane, high-drama race to the target score. It was the first time I’ve ever seen a game end like that, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the Elam Ending.

Of course, not all finishes were as compelling. Some were such blowouts that reaching the target score first was a mere formality. Other showdowns concluded on free throws. About 19 percent of 2018 TBT games ended at the charity stripe, and it is a common criticism of the Elam Ending.

Elam called it “the easiest concern to respond to.”

“Every time I see it, it reaffirms my belief in the Elam Ending,” he explained. “If you don’t like games being decided by free throws, then you should love the Elam Ending. Under the regular format, it is the norm for games to be decided by free throws, and under the Elam Ending, it is the exception.”

He makes a valid point, and even more to his idea’s credit, there is always a game-winning shot in the Elam Ending. No game goes without it, even with lopsided score lines. There is always an anticipation before the last points are scored. Will this be the drive? Will this be the pass? Will this be the shot?

Elam doesn’t intend to stop at TBT and the grassroots level of basketball where his concept is becoming more and more incorporated. He wants the Elam Ending in the highest levels of the sport – NBA, WNBA, NCAA, Olympics – and one day he might get it.

That day won’t be for a long time, though, if it ever comes. It took him 10 years to get it implemented at all. But now that a major event is showcasing to a national audience with professional players every summer, the wheels can move faster.

There aren’t many technical arguments against the Elam Ending from where I’m sitting. Elam has done his homework, studying thousands of games and reviewing countless hours of footage in his free time to ensure his concept is sound. 

After watching TBT games live and on TV, it’s clear to me that the idea holds merit and accomplishes what it sets out to do. The portion of the game with a clock remains the same as it always has, and what would normally be the final minutes become even more intense than usual rather than the standard drop off in quality. No more late-game fouling, no more free-throw contests, and no more time wasting for as long as the shot clock will permit.

It would be difficult for me to let go of the basketball I’ve always known if the Elam Ending were to enter the mainstream. Buzzer beaters, overtime and dramatic races against the clock have provided me with some of the best sports memories I have, and it would hurt to lose those. While the Elam Ending provides a much more consistent entertaining conclusion to games, there is an element that is lost when those anxiety-filled endings are no longer special but the norm.

But maybe that’s the traditionalist in me talking. Maybe I’m afraid to let go of what I’ve always known and loved only because there was no alternative. Maybe my apprehension toward instituting such a radical revolution into a sport I’ve held so close to me for the entirety of my life is simply a fear of change.

I do know one thing, though: the Elam Ending is basketball as it was intended to be.

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