The NBA Needs to Adopt the Elam Ending for All Games

I’m gonna just say it: the Elam Ending should be the rule for all NBA games.

The score was 161-160 in favor of Team LeBron with a target score of 163. LeBron hits the turnaround jumper to win the All Star Game in a walk-off. It was incredible–in fact the whole ending of the game was electric. Maybe I’m just overreacting and living in the moment but I think the NBA would benefit from switching up its rules for how games end to the format used in the All Star Game, which is known as the “Elam Ending.”

First a little background on the concept of the “Elam Ending“.

Nick Elam is a professor at Ball State University who came up with the idea for ending basketball games on a final score total as opposed to a clock running out. He came up with the idea in 2007 and it took a decade for his idea to finally gain traction in the basketball world, when it was adopted by The Basketball Tournament, an open-application, single-elimination amateur basketball… tournament with a $1 million prize that has in the past featured former pros like Greg Oden, Jimmer Fredette, Hakim Warrick, Mike Bibby and Brian Scalabrine, and many ex-college basketball players.

Then, last year, the NBA announced it would start using the Elam Ending for the All Star Game, and it has been a smash hit ever since.

The rules are pretty simple:

Instead of playing an entire timed fourth quarter, the Elam Ending plays to a target score. The game clock is turned off after the first whistle under four minutes, however, the shot clock is still in use. The target score is eight points more than the leading team’s score, or if the game is tied, eight points more than the tied score. Replay reviews are allowed if either team is within three points of the target score. Games can be won on any field goal or a free throw. A recent rule change eliminates the likelihood of intentional fouls. If a team commits a foul while in the bonus, the other team gets only one free throw, then retains possession. Due to the Elam Ending’s format, there is no overtime.”

For example, if the score is 88-83 at the under four minute mark, the first team to 96 wins. It’s untimed, so it doesn’t matter how long it takes to get there.

Elam invented his ending with the intent to conclude the game in a more natural way as opposed to stalling or intentionally fouling. I’ve always thought of it as a more organized version of how pickup hoops or a game of 21 is scored.

The main benefit to the Elam Ending is that it prevents games from devolving into intentional fouling free throw contests, and makes it more about getting buckets and getting stops. Every game will end on a made basket.

I’m ready for the Elam Ending in real, regular season and playoff NBA games. It’s time. It’s so much more entertaining than the current rules.

It’s just better.

The hard part will be convincing people to get on board because most people are reflexively resistant to change, and support the status quo because “that’s the way it’s always been done.”

But the reality is that the Elam Ending is just better. Nobody really likes the way NBA games currently end, with all the intentional fouls and free throw shooting. It’s drawn out and it becomes a different game–it’s not really basketball.

I think the Elam Ending is still 5-10 years out from having a chance to be taken seriously for implementation in real NBA games, but no one can deny how exciting the ending was in last night’s All Star Game. It’s back-and-forth, possession-by-possession, and it all comes down to which team can get stops and make buckets. That’s the way basketball should be.

As far as other experimental rules floating around out there, like the 4-point line, I think at some point in the next 10 years the NBA will seriously consider adopting it. I’m guessing we see a 4-point line in the All Star Game at some point in the next few years, but I don’t know if I’d like it in real NBA games as it feels kind of gimmicky. But then again, they probably said that about the 3-point line back in the 1970s.

The Elam Ending is an idea whose time has come.

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