Divisions serve an important purpose in sports. If you win your division., you go to the playoffs. Also, they usually encourage regional rivalries due to the larger number of games you play against your division opponents. They keep travel costs down and hostilities up, at least for baseball and football. For basketball, divisions are all but pointless.
Divisions do not encourage rivalries or keep costs down in the NBA like they do in other sports. In basketball, you play your division opponents 4 times each. Then, depending on your schedule, you play other teams in your conference 3 or 4 times also, and have multiple games against every team in the other conference. Compared to the NFL, where 6 out of 16 games are against division opponents, basketball does not even come close in using its divisions to cut down travel costs and to stir up regional rivalries.
Winning the division in the NBA punches a ticket to the playoffs. But, in a league where half of the teams make the playoffs, is it necessary to have to be crowned a division winner in order to make the playoffs? If teams went on record alone, the playoff seeding would shake out much the same way that it does under this format. If a team did not battle it out against their division opponents and basically played the same number of games against every team in the league, it makes no sense to give out a meaningless award to the top team in a mere regional grouping.
Divisions may serve an important purpose in the MLB or the NFL, but they have no place in the NBA. They save the league virtually no money, they do not foster rivalries, and the title of division champion is basically meaningless. I think fans of the NBA are smart enough to know that the Miami Heat are located in the "southeast" part of the country.
What's the Point is a weekly column by David Straple. Feel free to comment.