Last March felt like an eternity. April was a blur. Mondays are Fridays. 11 a.m. might as well be 6 p.m. Just weeks before the reality of the pandemic set in last year, the Elam Ending exposed the clock as a gimmick in the fourth quarter of the 2020 NBA All-Star Game.
The Elam Ending was concocted by Nick Elam — a card-carrying Mensa member, professor and die-hard basketball fan — as a solution to the tyranny of clock management at the end of games. As it stands, the team with the lead deliberately slows down the game, stalls its offense and chucks up bad shots at the end of the shot clock, all in service of ending the game while incurring little risk.
Elam proposes a different way to end games, with teams playing to a particular score, like most weekend warriors do at the YMCA. Last year, the Elam Ending gave way to pure, untethered basketball, with both teams desperate to make the most of every possession, to defend and execute with intensity and intention. Uninhibited by time ticking off the clock, the best players in the world were free to play their hardest when the stakes were the highest.
This year’s All-Star Game wasn’t nearly as close, but the Elam Ending returned and provided some benefits. The fourth quarter didn’t drag, and more importantly, Team LeBron was forced to win the game through action as opposed to inaction. They had to twist the knife, and there are few more entertaining knife-twisters than Damian Lillard, who ended the game with a 40-foot bang — as opposed to dribbling out the clock.
After the game, Yahoo Sports caught up with Elam to break down the utility of the Elam Ending and its future.
This interview has been condensed for clarity.
So what did you think of the game [Sunday night]?
Well, I loved it. I thought it was a blast. Years ago, envisioning this concept I thought, it can be beneficial in different ways for different types of games. I think it has certain benefits in really close games. And I think it has certain benefits in a game like [Sunday] where you get to the fourth quarter and you have a margin of about 20 to 25 points. Team LeBron, they’ve proven that they’ve got the edge. They’ve had a better night. But what the Elam Ending does is it just gives them a chance to lean into the finish, instead of just turning into a crawl to the finish where the leading team is playing passively. They had a chance to kinda push the gas pedal and go for the finish line there, and they’re looking for good shots and having fun out there. And seeing Damian Lillard hit a half-court 3-pointer to win it was a really cool way to end it.
Rather than having to just watch the clock ticking down, let’s go get those points and lift up that trophy. And that’s what they did. Watching on TV, I was yelling once they got to exactly three points away. I’m like, “Oh, I want it to be Steph [Curry] or I want it to be Dame finishing this game.” One possession before [Lillard’s winner], Curry shot a really long 3-pointer. I’m like, “Hit that, hit that!”
It gives you something worth watching for, right? A lot of times, you are literally just begging for the game to end.
You mentioned just having something to watch for. I don’t know if any sportsbooks had any kind of prop bet on who makes the winning shot. I think it’s only a matter of time before sportsbooks start to offer that sort of a bet that you can put five bucks down and try to win a little bit of money on, you know, if you had Damian Lillard hitting the three.
Even though [Team LeBron] was up by so much, those threes, they hit a different way.
Yeah, that was really cool. And one thing that I’ve kind of noticed, whether it’s in [The Basketball Tournament] or, you know, a game like [Sunday’s All-Star Game] … well, I guess let me back up.
[Note: The Basketball Tournament, a 5-on-5 winner-takes-all tournament, uses the Elam Ending.]
We’ve seen a lot of TBT games where it comes down to a sudden-death finish, next score wins or just a game is really competitive, really intense. When the ball goes through the net, the players celebrate as if it’s a buzzer-beater. They look around for the closest teammate to embrace and, you know, they’re just jumping, just going crazy just like if they hit a buzzer-beater and a game like [Sunday], you hit a three to finish off a 20-point game, you know, nobody has perfected what the best reaction is.
I think as this is implemented more widely, it’s going to lend itself to different kinds of walk-off rituals, celebration dances or whatever might be — kind of like what we saw in the NFL this year. We saw a lot of teams kind of doing team celebrations. I could see that happening with the Elam Ending where teams start to develop their own little team rituals whenever they make a winning shot.
I’m happy with how it worked out [Sunday], and I cannot speak on behalf of the NBA, but I’m confident we have not seen the last of the Elam Ending at the NBA All-Star Game. I think it’s going to continue to grow.
What’s the latest on that? Could we see it in G League games or anything like that?
To me, I feel like there are a lot of different good venues under the NBA’s umbrella that would make for great places to implement this idea. Like you said, the G League, Summer League, preseason play. I know they’ve talked about an in-season tournament. I think that would be really ideal because if they’re going to do an in-season tournament, you’ve got to do something that kind of sets it apart from regular-season play and makes it special. So I think that would make a lot of sense. So, again, I can’t speak for them, but in my mind, I think there’s a lot of great venues to do that.
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