Basketball is a popular game that’s been around for a long, long time. As such, it comes as no surprise there are plenty of slang or vernacular terms associated with the sport. There is a range of phrases that, while recognizable to fans and players, might sound foreign to other people.
One of the most subtle terms is “in 6,” or the word “in” followed by a number. To shed light on what that means and why it came about, I will break down both the phrase and its history below.
First to Four
When someone uses the phrase “in” in reference to basketball they are talking about a series (most likely a playoff series) rather than a single game. And, they are talking about the winner of such series.
During the regular NBA season, teams play each other in one-game matches where they see a different opponent each contest. In fact, some teams might only face off once or twice during the course of an entire year. That’s not true in the playoffs.
During the NBA postseason, teams play each other in a 7 game series where the first team to win four games wins the series and moves onto the next round. In that way, the most games that can possibly be played in a single series is seven.
Though the history of “in” is not exactly known, its meaning is clear. The phrase is used when describing how many games it will take for a team to win a series. If someone thinks a team will win in six games, they say they will win “in 6.” I.e. “The Heat will win in six.
When someone says “in 6” they mean that there will be six total games played throughout the series. The team they predicted will win 4, while the losing team will win 2.
If a team wins in 7, all seven possible games are played. If a team wins four, however, the series is a sweep.
Often, such predictions are made before a series starts. You can say a team “won in 6” or “won in 7” after the series ends, but most of the time you’ll hear the phrase when someone describes how a series ended or played out.
The History of the Playoffs
To get a better idea of the history behind “in 6,” we first need to go back and look at the way the NBA playoffs evolved over time. The league first started using a seven game series when the playoffs began all the way back in the 1950’s.
However, they shifted that format from 1951 when the NBA moved the division finals to a best of five series rather than a best of seven. It would remain that way until 1968, when the league re-expanded the series to a best of seven series.
The playoffs we have today came in 1984, when the tournament went to its current 16-team, four-round knockout format. Even so, the first-round series went to a best-of-five. It didn’t change until 2003, when it became a best of seven to match everything else.
That tradition of the different series in the playoffs is why people say “in” to describe what will happen or what has happened. They’ve been saying it since the beginning and they likely always will.
There are many phrases that you’ll encounter when either playing or watching basketball. Someone calling a series in a certain number of games is certainly one of them. It’s a short, snappy way to describe a series without having to go into more detail.
Though some people may not use the phrase, it’s something to add to your own arsenal when talking about the sport. It helps you understand the discussions as well.