When the dust settled from the rare two Game 7s in the conference finals, we were right back where we were last year.
And the year before that.
And the year before that.
This will be the fourth consecutive season the NBA Finals will feature the Golden State Warriors vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers. While this matchup pits the best team of this era against the best player of this generation, there was a collective groan about seeing this matchup again. Still, it did lead to some good comedy from CBS:
Despite the laughs, round four does lead to a couple of questions.
Is it good for the NBA to have the same teams in four years in a row?
Will there be viewer fatigue and will ratings drop?
History suggests probably not.
The NBA has always been its most popular when it gets its biggest stars on its biggest stages, and this will be the fourth year in a row the league will have just that. LeBron James is the best player of this generation and one of the best players of any generation. Stephen Curry will go down as the best pure shooter the game has ever seen. Draymond Green is polarizing (and that’s good for ratings). The past two years, Kevin Durant has joined this mix.
With that group to sell and good storylines — plus a growing general popularity of the sport, ratings this season were up both nationally and overall in local broadcasts — more people have tuned in to watch these past three Finals than any since the Jordan era. There has not yet been fatigue.
And there wasn’t in the Jordan era, either.
Michael Jordan went to six finals in eight seasons, ratings and the popularity of the sport have never been higher. Before him (and slightly overlapping), Magic Johnson took the Lakers to nine NBA in 12 years, and people were hoping to see him go up against Larry Bird’s Celtics one more time. Shaq and Kobe’s Lakers’ three-peated and that was good for the league.
The reason is that more and more “casual” NBA fans tune into the Finals. The hard-core NBA fan may be weary of the Cavs vs. Warriors matchup and vent their frustrations on Twitter, but at this point in the season the audience is much broader. Those increased fans don’t seem to mind.
In 2017, the overall ratings and viewership were basically even with 2016 (20.4 million average viewers on ABC for games in 2017, vs. 20.3 million in 2016). However, while Game 1 of 2016 was higher, the ratings for Games 2-5 were higher in 2017. The only reason the overall ratings did as well in 2016 is it had the massive draws of Games 6 and 7 (viewership always goes up the deeper we get into a series).
Maybe this year it’s different, maybe year four is the tipping point when people start to tune out of this series.
However, there is nothing the NBA can do about it — this was earned. Both the Cavaliers and Warriors were pushed hard in the conference finals (and all season) and had to earn their trip back to the big dance with Game 7 wins on the road. Both teams also caught some breaks — nobody, not even Jordan, won rings without some luck (with health and other aspects).
Who knows what the landscape of the NBA will look like a year from now — the only thing more popular in the NBA than the Finals lately is the summer free agency/trade season. This year is shaping up to see some league-changing movement. Plus in the East, Boston and Philadelphia are on the rise and will try to assert themselves at the top of the food chain. It’s the cycle of things.
For now, it is round four of Cavaliers vs. Warriors.
We’ll see if the fans are still into this.