The NBA has had some strong tail winds all season with the Warriors amazing run, the Mamba farewell tour, King James making a realistic final run at a title for the Cavs, and of course the Spurs defying age, but no one could have foreseen the type of climax that we saw this week. It was a perfect storm of night with potential record setting games and others with playoff implications. Ironically, it more than lived up to the hype.
First off was the culmination of what has been building up for five months, obviously Kobe Bryant’s last game. Now remember the season didn’t start off with the farewell tour on the agenda, but after a very shaky first month, Kobe realized Father Time was ahead on all scorecards and a unanimous decision was imminent, so he decided to get his just props and step aside. Although the pomp and circumstance was unseen since the exits of Dr. J, Larry Bird, and Magic Johnson, no one could have scripted and a climax like the one we saw. A 60 point outburst, including scoring the final 11 points for the Lakers (5 for 5 from the field), after being down by 8 with just over 2 minutes to go in the game, to come back in win in the final 30 seconds. Hitting 3 pointers from near the opponent’s bench with a hand in his face, it was vintage Kobe, the way we remember him in his prime. Now what was a surprise was how big it was to the rest of the nation. It wasn’t supposed to be the biggest event of the night but drew a 2.6 overnight rating and 3.46 million viewers but most importantly, the coveted Millennial Category where the Bryant farewell did better among younger viewers, with the Lakers game edging out the Warriors’ game, 1.7 to 1.6 in adults 18-49. It was even more lopsided among persons 12-34, where 1.8% of viewers in that age group watching Bryant’s final game and 1.5% of persons 12-34 watching the historic Warriors’ victory. That said, the Warriors still won the overall ratings war 3.65 vs. 3.46 but they lost the afore mentioned Millennial category, social media, and sports talk as well with ESPN shows PITI, Around the Horn, Mike & Mike, and First Take all leading with Kobe’s final game performance over the Warriors setting the record the next day.
The Warriors had carried the flag for the NBA all season keeping fans interested in their quest to break the all-time wins record long after the playoff picture had been painted except for the seedings. For example, between the two the NBA had a fabulous day taking a total market share of 7.11 for the day making it the highest-rated NBA regular season game on ESPN since a October 31, 2014 match-up between LeBron James’ Cleveland Cavaliers and his old Miami Heat team got a 3.1. overnight rating. The Lakers’ 101-96 win over the Utah Jazz was the all-time best ESPN2 has ever done with a regular season NBA game. Both games were the highest rated season finale match-ups that ESPN has ever had, in records going back 14-years. According to Variety, NBA TV’s coverage of the Golden State-San Antonio game on Sunday averaged 2.6 million viewers, easily surpassing the network’s all-time high set earlier this season for the same teams (1.4 million on Jan. 25). Overall for the year, NBA TV averaged 176,000 viewers in primetime, its highest ever for a full regular season and a 14% increase over last year. The league’s digital platforms also Digital delivered record-setting numbers. NBA League Pass, the NBA’s out-of-market subscription package, delivered a record 27 million video views and 1.2 billion total minutes viewed during the regular season, while globally NBA.com and the NBA App netted a record 9.1 billion video views (up 160% over last year) and three billion visits (a 27% year-over-year increase). No doubt the NFL is still top dog but the gap is closing between 1 and 2, and worldwide the NBA sits on top among “American” sports.