Congratulations to the Lakers and their fans on L.A.'s 2009 NBA Championship! It was quite an impressive accomplishment. During these Finals, however, an even greater feat of endurance occurred: actually watching the NBA Finals.
Despite a couple of close finishes, the 2009 NBA Finals left a lot to be desired, and it started with Game 1.
Lakers dominated that game from beginning to end, winning 100-75 and possibly saying good-bye to the casual fan. At that point, the Finals storylines went from "Kobe vs. Superman" to "Does Kobe need another ring to solidify his legacy?" and "Phil Jackson to pass up Red Auerbach."
After the thrashing the Lakers gave to the Magic in Game 1, the NBA Finals focused around when, instead of "if," the Lakers were going to win the championship. It became a foregone conclusion the Lakers would win, so the series became a great deal less interesting.
Another component to the lack of interest were the huge breaks in between the games. It is a momentum killer. I've already mentioned how much I hated the 5-day layoff in between the last two rounds of the playoffs, but my fury was only compounded upon hearing about the 3-day break between Game 1 & 2 and 4 & 5.
I understand the league wants to get games on certain days of week when they will more likely produce ratings and this isn't the first year they've done it, but it just makes me lose interest in the games. It seems like that idea would work better with more interesting matchups. But if your team isn't involved in the Finals, do you really have any reason to watch when it looks like it's over after Game 1?
The NBA Finals used to be "appointment TV." Each year the Finals would be full of stars: Michael/Scottie vs. Magic/Worthy, Drexler, Barkley, Payton/Kemp, and Stockton/Malone. This year's Finals lacked real star power.
Don't get me wrong, the Finals had a star in Kobe Bryant, averaging over 32 points and 7 assists per game. Stars rise to the occasion on the biggest stage. Not necessarily winning, but at least playing like an all star.
After the Magic knocked off the Cavs, thanks in part to a big series from Dwight Howard, I think a lot of people - and count me among them - thought Magic-Lakers was going to be a very interesting series.
It turned out the NBA Finals actually did need LeBron, because Superman did not show up against L.A. (15 ppg, 15 rpg, 3 orpg, 4 bpg, 48.8 FG%, 60.3 FT% 4 topg) the way he did with Cleveland (25 ppg, 13rpg, 4 orpg, 1.2 bpg, 65 FG%, 70.1 FT%, 2.5 topg).
Sure, he might have been better defensively in the Finals, blocking more shots and grabbing more rebounds. But solid defense doesn't do it for the general basketball fan, maybe an Orlando Magic fan, but not the every-day fan.
Solid defense never drew viewers for series with the Detroit Pistons. It never drew viewers for the San Antonio Spurs. And it most certainly didn't draw viewers when the Pistons played the Spurs in the 2005 finals.
Still, the TV ratings from the 2009 Finals are comparable to last year's matchup, which included a team from a bigger market and with a richer team history: the Boston Celtics. One might conclude that my theory goes out the window, since fans were still tuning in the same as they did for last year's championship, a very good NBA Finals.
Or maybe since the TV ratings for NBA Playoffs this year had been a 20% improvement over last year's, the 2009 Finals should have reaped the benefits of that success. Was it the 5-day break from the Conference Finals to the NBA Finals? Was it the 3-day breaks in between Games 1 & 2 and 4 & 5, when there was no traveling involved for teams? Was it the lack of star power?
The TV ratings for the NBA finals took a nosedive in 1999 after the lockout, and it really has never recovered. And in the 1990s, the ratings were only high when Michael Jordan was playing. This year the NBA really needed LeBron vs. Kobe. The two best, most exciting, most fun-to-watch players going against each other. A matchup of the two players most compared to Michael Jordan would have drawn a big audience.
Here's hoping future NBA Finals produce more intriguing matchups - and soon.
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