Sports·The Buzzer

There's a better way to end basketball games — and a Canadian league is trying it

Friday's edition of CBC Sports' daily newsletter, The Buzzer, covers a brilliant basketball idea, powerful statements by the Raptors and a soccer great, an eerie Jays game and UFC's Fight Island.

The Elam Ending is coming to the CEBL's return tournament

The Elam Ending was a big hit at this year's NBA All-Star Game. (Stacey Revere/Getty Images)

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The Elam Ending is catching on

Basketball is a great sport. But it has a major flaw. The part of a game that should be the most exciting — the ending — can often be the most tedious. This stems from the fact that it's really hard to take the ball away from the team that has it. So when the clock is running low and a team is trailing by more than a basket, its only real recourse in preventing its opponents from bleeding out the clock is to intentionally foul them. That stops the time and gives the fouling team the ball back when the free throw(s) are done. It gives them a chance to win when they probably don't deserve one. It also pins the outcome of the game on free-throw shooting — probably the least-exciting aspect of a sport filled with jaw-dropping displays of athleticism.

If Dr. James Naismith had known the inheritors of his wonderful creation would discover this loophole, he probably would have written a different way to finish games into his original rules. That's the premise behind the Elam Ending, an ingenious system for deciding basketball games that closes that loophole. It's the brainchild of a basketball-loving American university professor named Nick Elam.

Here's how it works: Rather than playing for a set amount of time (48 minutes in the NBA, for example), teams play until one of them reaches a target score. The clock is still used for most of the game, but at the first stoppage in play with under four minutes left in the fourth quarter, it's turned off. The target score is determined by adding seven points to the leading team's score. 

For example: The ball goes out of bounds with 3:57 left and the Raptors leading the Warriors 100-95. The teams now play to 107. So the Raptors need 7 points to win the game, and the Warriors need 12. And, no, you don't have to hit the score exactly. If the Raptors are at 105 and they hit a three-pointer, they still win.

Other than the game clock being off, the normal rules of basketball apply. There's still a shot clock, fouls are still called, etc. But now the leading team can't bleed out the clock, and the trailing team has no reason to intentionally foul them. The only way to get the ball back is with a defensive stop. The only way to win the game is by sinking a basket. There are no shortcuts.

And therein lies the beauty of the Elam Ending: every single game ends with a game-winning shot. Critics point out that this shot could be a free throw. But that's OK. Sure, you'd like to see it decided with a huge LeBron James dunk or one of those Steph Curry off-the-dribble bombs from the centre-court logo. But imagine the drama of, say, Kyle Lowry stepping to the foul-line late in an NBA Finals game, his Raptors just one point away from the target score. That's a level of excitement we're simply not getting with the late-game free throws we see now.

Another perk of the Elam Ending: you can customize it. At this year's NBA All-Star Game, rather than use the default settings of four minutes left and seven points, they made it the entire fourth quarter and 24 points — a nod to Kobe Bryant's jersey number. The whole thing was a hit with players and fans. Some even suggested the Elam Ending should be used for meaningful games.

The Canadian Elite Basketball League is doing exactly that. For its upcoming Summer Series tournament in St. Catharines, Ont., the CEBL is using a slightly modified version of Nick Elam's template. As the professor suggested, the Elam Ending will go into effect at the first stoppage after the 4:00 mark of the fourth quarter. But the target will be the leading team's score plus nine (not seven).

You'll be able to see the Elam Ending in action when the seven-team tournament tips off on July 25. CBC Sports is live streaming all 26 games for free on its website and app and on the CBC Gem streaming service. Seven games will also be broadcast on the CBC TV network, including the championship game on Aug. 9. Read more about the Elam Ending and how and why the CEBL is deploying it in this piece by CBC Sports' Myles Dichter.

WATCH | What is the Elam Ending?

The CEBL will be back in action this month, but they're using a new method to end games: the Elam Ending. So, what exactly does that mean? 2:45

Quickly...

The Raptors arrived at the NBA's Disney bubble with a powerful display. The reigning champions' buses were outfitted with a special wrap — nearly all black, with "Black Lives Matter" in white text over the tinted windows. Many of the players, along with head coach Nick Nurse, wore tops with that message on them as they stepped off the bus. All 22 teams participating in the NBA's restart have now checked into the bubble, where they'll be isolated from the general public until they're eliminated from championship contention and sent home. Games begin July 30, and the Raptors open Aug. 1 vs. the Lakers. Read more about how things are going in the bubble so far and see what the Raptors' arrival looked like here.

Montreal Impact coach Thierry Henry took a knee for the first 8 minutes and 46 seconds of last night's match. Before he got into coaching, Henry was one of the most beloved soccer players of his generation. He is France's all-time leading international goal scorer. He helped his country win the World Cup on home soil in 1998 and the European Championship two years later. Henry starred at the club level too. With Arsenal, he led the English Premier League in scoring four times and lifted the team to a pair of league titles. He later helped Barcelona to domestic and Champions League titles in the same season, and had a late-career stint in New York with Major League Soccer. Which is all to say that Henry's actions carry a lot of weight with people in different parts of the world. That's one of the things that made his tribute to George Floyd during Montreal's opening match at the MLS is Back Tournament so meaningful. See it here.

The Blue Jays played their first game at an eerily empty Rogers Centre. It was only an intrasquad contest, but it showed us the vibe we'll get if the Jays play regular-season games in their home stadium (the Canadian government is still mulling their request). The biggest difference was how jarring the game sounds (crack of the bat, ball hitting the catcher's mitt, etc.) were without the din of a crowd. In an effort to preserve some normalcy, music was played over the speakers between innings, and batters still got their walk-up music. Media people were allowed in, and they got better seats — the section below the press box. The Canadian Press' Gregory Strong was one of the reporters in attendance, and you can read his account of the weirdness here. CBC's Greg Ross was on hand too. Watch his report, including a few clips from the game, here.

And finally...

Fight Island is really happening. When Dana White first floated the idea, it sounded like some combination of elevator pitch and fever dream. OK, hear me out: the pandemic is making it hard to get our events sanctioned in the U.S., right? So what if we flew all the fighters into a private island where we make the rules? We'll call it… Fight Island! Some dismissed White's vision as something out of a martial-arts movie, but tomorrow it becomes a reality. The UFC will hold the first of four cards (running through July 25) on Yas Island in Abu Dhabi. It's not a private island, but it's something close. The tourist destination is only 10 square miles and includes hotels, amusement parks and a golf course. The Abu Dhabi government has helped set up a "Safe Zone" where only those involved in the UFC event will be allowed. The octagon is technically right on the beach, but it sits inside a temporary structure so the fighters won't be exposed to the elements. You can read more about the Fight Island setup here.

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