In one sense, this is LeBron James’ NBA championship to win. Kevin Durant showed in Oklahoma City’s Game 1 victory that he will have a say in the matter. But the real winner just might be ABC.
Ratings numbers came in from the Thunders’ 105-94 conquest over Miami Tuesday night and they were record-setting. Game 1 of the NBA Finals drew the highest rating for an opening game that ABC has ever had.
It earned an 11.8 overnight Nielsen rating, which is up 10 percent over last year’s Finals Game 1 between the Heat and Mavericks. The previous record for a Game 1 was 11.6 in a 2004 game between the Pistons and Lakers.
Predictably, in the participants’ cities, the ratings were off the charts. In Oklahoma City, the game a phenomenal 44.3 rating, the best ever for an NBA game in the market. In Miami, the rating was 30.5.
The ratings news comes on the heels of Game 7 of the East finals between the Heat and Celtics earning the top rating for an NBA game on cable.
It stands to reason the ratings will climb as the series progresses. James is widely considered the best player on earth, but his history of Finals flops intrigues fans. Viewers want to see his — and sidekick Dwyane Wade’s, to a lesser degree — explosive play, especially in the open floor. At the same time, there is a huge faction of fans that want to see him fail. Either way, they will be watching.
Meanwhile, there is Durant who has used these playoffs to notify the basketball public of his tremendous skill set. The 6-foot-10 forward with as diverse and effective an offensive repertoire as there is in the NBA has won over many fans who appreciate his dominance and humility.
There have not been many players like Durant — that tall, lanky and deadly. Pair him with point guard Russell Westbook — a blazing fast ball-handler with tremendous leaping ability and a fearless demeanor– and OKC has a team that is as attractive to the eye as any.
In particular, there is Durant, who is such a different player that it is almost impossible to take your eyes off of him. He’s a deft scorer in the low post, from the perimeter and in transition. Beyond that, he has been a clutch performer, delivering timely baskets in desperate situations.
Durant’s emergence combined with the drama around James — and the mercurial Westbrook and Wade — provide many must-see angles. ABC is happy about that. Imagine if it were a San Antonio-Boston NBA Finals. Then again, don’t imagine that.