What is the Elam Ending?

Don’t like late-game fouling? The Elam Ending is for you.

Designed to preserve a more natural end of game finish, the Elam Ending calls for the game clock to be shut off at the first dead ball under four minutes in the fourth quarter or second half. A target score is then established by adding eight points to the leading team’s score. For example, if the score is 80-72, the two teams will play until someone reaches 88. With no game clock in play, trailing teams are allowed to focus on getting stops and buckets, rather than intentionally fouling.

After originally testing the rule out on a part-time basis in 2017, The Basketball Tournament implemented it for all games beginning in 2018. The results were eye-opening. Not only did fans embrace the concept, but it led to a noticeably better end of game experience both on the court and in the stands.

In the summer of 2019, NBA All-Star and Team CP3 GM Chris Paul made a recommendation to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver and proposed implementing the Elam Ending at the 2020 All-Star Game. “I’m all about strategy and the way you have to think the game down the stretch,” says Paul. The league officially went ahead with the Elam Ending and as a way to honor the late L.A. Lakers great Kobe Bryant, added 24 points to the leading team’s total after three quarters.

The competing teams ended up playing to a target score of 157, leading to one of the best finishes to an NBA AllStar game.

The rule was also adopted by New Zealand’s National Basketball League in May of 2020. They will use the Elam Ending on a full-time basis for all overtime games.


Many of us have a misconception about how often games end with a meaningful made basket. Under the regular format, when a game ends with an unsuccessful meaningful possession, the clock does the heavy lifting (and turns the most important possession of the game into a blooper reel), not the defense. Even for some of the rare games that end with a buzzer-beater (those released in a tie game), the Elam Ending would raise the stakes and enhance the drama. All that remains is the fraction of a percent of games that end with a do-or-die buzzer-beater (where the team that wins at the buzzer was trailing at the time they released the shot); those are definitely cool, but even then the clock still dampens the celebration by necessitating a replay review.

The Elam ending allows teams to play at a high level all the way through the end of the game and take their best shot on the last possession of the game. It provided greater hope for late comebacks as long as you can continue to get defensive stops. And it provided more memorable game-ending moments.


Basketball superfan, member of Mensa, Ball State Professor, and Cincinnati Reds Groundskeeper Nick Elam emailed us blindly at info@thetournament.com in August of 2016 with a rule change proposal he called the “Hybrid Duration Format,” which TBT would later rename the Elam Ending.

Nick DVR’d over 2,000 NBA and NCAA basketball games over a ten-year period and found that the trailing team resorted to intentional fouling at the end of the game in roughly half of all games. Furthermore, he noted it was only an effective strategy for the trailing team 1.5% of the time. So Nick’s idea was to shut the game clock off halfway through the fourth quarter and set a Target Score. The first team to the Target Score wins.

After working with Nick, TBT decided to implement the format in June of 2017. It has proven to be wildly successful amongst fans of all ages.

Elam began working on the concept in 2004 after becoming frustrated while watching the NCAA Tournament with a group of friends. He noticed that instead of being the most exciting portion of the game, the final couple minutes were often diluted with rushed offensive possessions and endless fouling by the trailing team. For a basketball fanatic like Elam, accepting this status quo was simply not good enough.

Armed with an excel spreadsheet and a desire to change basketball for the better, Elam went to work and began analyzing any game he could get his hands on. The results proved what many already suspected. In the nearly 400 NBA games he logged, the trailing team that resorted to fouling lost over 98 percent of the time. College games saw a similar trend, with the fouling team losing over 96 percent of the time. From there, he spent years coming up with a way to (a) give trailing teams a chance if they played good defense and (b) preserve a more natural end of game.

It ultimately became The Elam Ending.