Just a few years ago, the NBA was boring. People watched the finals casually and generally were indifferent on the outcome of the championship. TV ratings were sub-par and the league was in desperation mode trying to compete with the MLB and NHL. The reemergence of the historic franchises (Celtics and Lakers) helped the NBA, but still fans outside of Boston and Los Angeles didn’t really care about the storied rivalry. Then the next wave of young stars surfaced, as Dwight Howard, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Bosh, Chris Paul, and Carmelo Anthony took the NBA by storm. Howard, James and Wade all carried their teams to the NBA Finals, but only Wade got a ring. Despite the young talent, was amidst some of its’ worst TV ratings. In fact, in 2007, the NBA Finals received the worst TV rating (6.2 – which means that 6.2% of US households with a TV tuned into the game), since the Nielsen Ratings started in 1976. Though the rating is almost triple the NHL’s Stanley Cup Finals, the World Series was still much better than the NBA’s ratings.
The highest TV rating ever record for the NBA Finals was in 1998, Michael Jordan’s last season with the Chicago Bulls (18.7). Since then, the highest rating for the NBA finals has been 12.1 (2001 Philadelphia vs. Los Angeles). In the past 6 years, the average rating is 8.5 for the NBA Finals, while from 1982 to 2002 the ratings never dropped below 10. 2010 was a good year for the Finals, mostly because it went all the way to seven games. Through six games the ratings were below 10, but with the help of an 18.2 rating in game 7, the average was bumped up to 10.6. Clearly the NBA needed help and the King’s decision did wonders for the land.
As much as most people hate LeBron James, he revived the struggling NBA. It all started last summer when he decided to display his “Decision” on television. That show alone received a 7.3 rating. Moments after “I’m going to take my talents to South Beach” was said, chaos followed: burning of jerseys, tearing of signs, rioting in Cleveland, partying in Miami, and mourning in New Jersey/New York. Teams quickly built backup plans in wake of LeBron’s choice to go to South Beach, with the Bulls, Knicks and Nets filling out their rosters with second-tier players. On the other hand, LeBron joined Bosh and Wade to be the NBA’s version of the Cowboys and Yankees, as the team everybody loves to hate. That hatred has only grown through a crazy season in the NBA, but amidst all of the commotion, the NBA has quickly become relevant again. The TV ratings doubled in Miami with a 99% total increase, and suprisingly the Clippers saw a 130% increase in their ratings from 2010. People are suddenly excited about basketball, something we haven’t seen since the Jordan Era. Post-Jordan basketball hasn't been too exciting, but LeBron has brought some of that hype back. He still doesn’t have championship, but he’s poised to get one. As much as I hate him, I’m happy he’s in the NBA.
He’s not arguably the best player in the league. He IS the best, by far. If you disagree, you’re wrong. He’s a superstar, but nobody likes him. Heck, even my Mom hates him. The NBA doesn’t care about his legacy; they are just reaping the benefits of a hated superstar. The ratings for last night’s Miami Heat victory in game 1 of the NBA finals was 10.7. The NBA has found its spark: hatred for LeBron James. If LeBron is upset with all the haters, there’s only one thing that will fix things: win the next 7 championships; and NBA commissioner, David Stern, would love nothing more.