Lakers Win, Ratings Tank in Unbelievable Fashion, and the NBA Cries Uncle

Mike Ehrmann/Pool Photo via AP


If LeBron James wins his fourth championship but no one watches, did it really happen?

The Los Angeles Lakers won their 17th NBA title last night, defeating the Miami Heat in six games. People flooded the streets in a manner that will no doubt be ignored, because it’s not a Trump rally. But overall, the ratings for these finals have been so bad as to belabor belief, and we aren’t talking a 20-30% drop, which would be damaging enough.

Here are the numbers. Though we don’t have Game 6 numbers yet, Game 5 drew only 5.7 million viewers. In 2019, that number was an astonishingly higher 18.5 million viewers. While the NFL has seen some decline during the prime time games (though match-ups like the Saints vs. Buccaneers drew increases), it’s been marginal at best and possibly explained by the pandemic. College football is continuing to do well during its return. Even golf saw exploding ratings when they came back from hiatus earlier in the year.

But the NBA has not just tanked — they have tanked in epic fashion. There is no other explanation for it than they got woke and went broke. If this was about streaming or COVID, all the other sports leagues would be seeing similar implosions. Yet, it’s only the NBA. That’s not to say other leagues haven’t dabbled in social justice warrioring as well, but the NBA has been far more in your face and condescending about it, led by the arrogant ignorance of their star player, LeBron James.

As Brad Slager reported last week, that has led the NBA to cry uncle. These were Commissioner Adam Silver’s words on the matter.

Last week, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said the league will revisit the social justice messaging seen by players and teams this season.

“I would say, in terms of the messages you see on the court and our jerseys, this was an extraordinary moment in time when we began these discussions with the players and what we all lived through this summer,” Silver said in an interview. “My sense is there’ll be somewhat a return to normalcy, that those messages will largely be left to be delivered off the floor.”

“And I understand those people who are saying, ‘I’m on your side, but I want to watch a basketball game,’” Silver continued.

Here’s the problem, though. Silver doesn’t control his own league. In the NFL, the player’s association has some pull, but the owners still control that league. In the NBA, the players have extracted so much power that they now have the power to run the entire enterprise into the ground. There’s very little that Silver can do to stop them. In other words, the genie is out of the bottle, and it’s unlikely it can be shoved back in.

Of course, money talks, and there is no way that the NBA can continue its current salary structure, when they are seeing a 69% drop in ratings. TV ratings, not stadium attendance or merchandise sales, make up the lion’s share of revenue in every sports league. It’s not financially possible for the NBA to keep on this path, and that may be enough to get even LeBron James to take a step back and realize he’s killing his own league. No matter how good a cause may or may not be, people watch sports to watch sports. It’s an escape from everyday life. No one wants to be lectured and shamed, while trying to be entertained. That’s the reality of the situation, and it was a big miscalculation by the NBA to ignore that.

(Please follow me on Twitter! @bonchieredstate)