Thursday , Jun , 14 , 2007 Oly Sandor

Low NBA Finals Ratings Shows Greatness Of Past Stars

Everybody has an opinion on the lack of interest in the NBA Finals … But instead of looking at what’s wrong with the NBA, fans should remember what was so right with The Golden Era … His Airness, Magic, and Larry are a tough act to follow …

Ian Thomsen, a writer with CNNSI.com, breaks down Commissioner Stern’s explanation for the NBA’s low television ratings:

Commissioner David Stern responded to the record-low TV ratings for the NBA Finals by saying that they were a sign of the changing media times.

"What it means to us is that we had two very bad games, and you would expect bad ratings,” Stern told SI.com during halftime of Game 3 Tuesday. "But what it also means is that we led the night in the key demographic on our network, and increasingly it’s not about how you did last year. It’s about how you did against your competition. And against our competition we’re doing great.”

The 6.3 rating for Game 1 of the Cleveland Cavaliers against the San Antonio Spurs on ABC amounted to a 19 percent drop from last year, setting a record low for an NBA Finals opening game in prime time. They fell even further for Game 2, earning a 5.6 national rating and a 10 share on Sunday night — plummeting 30 percent from the numbers of 8.0 and 14 drawn by the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks in the Finals last year.

An NBA official said that the ratings were affected by the competition in the East and Midwest against the finale of The Sopranos,’ which was watched by an estimated 11.9 million people on HBO. In addition, the Spurs have historically drawn small numbers on network television.

Stern’s emphasis was that the ratings fail to reflect a new audience that is consuming his league via NBA.com and other internet sites.

"Thirty million people visited streamed highlights on NBA.com [in February of this season],” Stern said. "Our fans, like so many other fans, are beginning to consume their sports in a completely different way and we’re totally prepared for that consumption.”

Stern said he never agreed with predictions that ratings would climb in anticipation of LeBron James’ debut in the NBA Finals, adding that the 22-year-old star was too young to carry the audience on his own.

"Michael didn’t do it at this point in his career,” said Stern, noting that Jordan didn’t reach the NBA Finals until his seventh NBA season.

My Quick Take: I agree with The Little General-and, no, I’m not referring to Mavs’ coach Avery Johnson.

Commissioner Stern is partially correct when asserting that people use different mediums to get their NBA news and highlights. And this has changed the way television and television ratings should be viewed-to an extent.

But the suits at NBA head office can’t just dismiss the ratings. Well, actually, Commissioner/General Stern does whatever the heck he likes- but there’s an important message behind the television numbers.

Back in the day, fans forged intense connections with star players. Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird were so great they transcended markets, regions, and statistics.

Fans watched their every move. These guys were cult leaders, rock stars, and superheroes all merged in one. And they were marketable, highly marketable.

Want proof? Think back to game four of the 1997 NBA Finals between the and . 70 million people tuned in to watch His Airness and Pippen take on the duo known as “Stockton-to-Malone.”

Ten years later, only seven million people watched Sunday’s game two battle between and the .

But these low ratings aren’t a reflection on today’s star players. Kobe, Wade, Timmy D, Carmelo, Dirk, Nasty Nash, and LeBron are true ballers with extraordinary skill sets.

It’s just the stars of yesterday are a damn tough act to follow. How do you be like Mike? Who can throw a no-look like Magic? And nobody has Larry-legend range.

No current player can step into the shoes of these past stars. They’ll never be another Michael, Magic, or Bird. These guys were one of a kind.

But the NBA has to move away from promoting individual stars or they’ll end up like boxing. This sport has suffered because they’re still looking for the next great heavyweight-even though Ali retired in the early eighties.

Boxing will never find another star quite like The Greatest of All-Time.

Right now, hoop fans should reflect on the brilliance of the past. Don’t agree with me?  Rent a VCR or eight track player, dust off those tapes and get reacquainted with the NBA’s old school.

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