The recipe is a simple one to follow: add a dash of the Los Angeles Lakers or a pinch of LeBron James as a substitute. Those are the ingredients for a NBA Finals ratings hit.
Unfortunately, due to injuries, the league’s cookbook is a mess. Coming off a NBA Finals that took place in October instead of June last season, as part of the unbalanced schedule changes the pandemic forced on the sports world, the league experienced horrendously low ratings, as there wasn’t a single Finals game that drew 10 million viewers. Compare that to the fact that outside of a tumultuous 2020, a LeBron James’-led team (31.02 million viewers for Game 7 of the 2016 Finals and 26.32 million for Game 7 of the 2013 Finals) have brought in the highest ratings over the last 20-plus years, besides the 28.20 million people that tuned in to see the Lakers and Celtics battle it out in Game 7 of the 2010 Finals.
The only teams that have ever come close to, and surpassed, those types of ratings were the Bulls and Jazz Finals of 1997 and 1998 that featured the likes of Jordan, Pippen, Rodman, Stockton, and Malone. It’s easy to imagine how a dream scenario of having the two largest media markets in play for the NBA Finals with the Lakers and Brooklyn Nets — in June — was atop Adam Silver’s Christmas list, as it would give the league a Finals that features LeBron, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, and James Harden.
Too bad the Grinch has already shown up.
The Schroder news is the last thing the Lakers needed to hear, as they’re still trying to work LeBron and Davis back in after returning from injuries that kept them out for long stretches. Los Angeles is sitting at sixth out west and is flirting with the play-in game and The King is pissed or whining, depending on how you look at it.
The Lakers have dropped six of their last seven and face the Nuggets on Monday night, who are currently seeded third. After that, they face the Clippers, Trail Blazers, Suns, and Knicks — all teams that are seeded above them or have a similar record. To make things worse, LeBron and Davis have combined to only play a total of 72 games this season, which is only nine more than Montrezl Harrell who leads the teams in games played, as he’s only missed one.
On the other side of the country, the Nets have also been decimated by injuries as Irving (48 games played), Harden, (34 games played), and Durant (28 games played) have only been on the court together a handful of times all season. But, unlike the Lakers, Brooklyn has been able to coast with one or two of their stars in the lineup, as they have already clinched a playoff spot and are battling with the Sixers for the No. 1 seed in the east.
Last year, despite a pandemic, you could make the argument that a Lakers/ Celtics series is what the league may have been hoping for before the Heat defeated Boston in the Eastern Conference Finals, denying us something we hadn’t seen in a decade. And while Heat/Lakers was cool, it didn’t have the kind of juice that draws in casual fans whenever Boston and Los Angeles play for a championship.
It’s almost similar to what we saw in college basketball during the NCAA Tournament, as viewership was down in a tournament that didn’t feature annual ratings darlings like Duke and Kentucky, as North Carolina lost in the first round. The Baylor/Gonzaga final was the least-watched championship game in CBS’ history, as Baylor and Houston’s Final Four matchup was the lowest-rated national semifinal game in tournament history.
According to SportsMediaWatch, the Lakers are still the NBA’s biggest draw. After Monday, the Lakers and Nets will only have seven regular seasons left before the postseason starts, as both teams have “championship or bust” mentalities.
One team has a steeper hill to climb than the other, but they’re still the two teams that can bring in the biggest audience for the league. That hill got even steeper as we found out that LeBron’s ankle still seems to be a big issue just hours before their game with Denver.
That means there’s only one thing left for Adam Silver to do, which is to call Tim Donaghy. I’m kidding. Kinda…