If you only look at TV ratings, then no. But with today’s media, does anyone?
A LeBron-less playoff has been bad news for NBA post-season TV ratings, sure. But the lack of the baller-turned-businessman’s on court presence has undoubtedly been a delight for fans who begrudgingly witnessed 4 consecutive finals of The Bay vs. The Land.
LeBron has long dominated the Eastern Conference. Thankfully for some, this season he migrated West and was forced to take the summer off. That means that some other teams, stars, and markets are finally able to break through.
Small market teams going deep into the playoffs spells economic problems 101 for any major league organization. Markets like Denver, Portland, and Milwaukee all having successful post-season runs inevitably draws fewer overnight ratings than if LeBron had snuck in as an 8-seed or if the Knicks were ever competitive. (One more year, Knickerbockers.)
But, as with anything, there’s short term and long term. Short term, the ratings may be lower. The mainstream coverage and chatter might tick at a slower rate than in years past. But long term? Well this is an opportunity for the NBA and smaller markets to build narratives, solidify fanbases, and fortify engagement, which increases the stability and profitability of the league as a whole. They get to tell their story to national TV and all associated avenues of which NBA culture is consumed. The more the Milwaukee’s of the league can cash in on post-season success and sellout crowds, the stronger the league’s baseline revenues will be for years to come.
The league is preparing for life after LeBron, and having 30 engaged and optimized fanbases, all with recent success and slivers of hope in the playoffs keeps everybody happy. Financially and competitively.
While media today has been sliced and diced more than onions in the kitchen around high-school graduation time, the pundits have to report on what sells. In a world where outlets put the utmost emphasis on hits, keywords like “LeBron” and “James” are the clickiest of click-bait.
So here we are, nearing the end of the 2019 playoffs with no LeBron criticism to clog the ESPN, Bleacher Report, Ringer, and Sports Opinion Journal timelines. (Speak it into existence, right?)
What kind of post-season does that give us? Well let’s take a look:
Across the first round, in the East alone, we had everybody’s favorite uncle with unlimited fouls in Jared Dudley and the upstart Nets take on the Process. An old-heads series full of grit and physical play.
We had Pardon My Take’s “Blake Of The Year” candidate take on the Greek Freak in Giannis Antetokounmpo and his seldom mentioned Mid-West bandmates “Eric”, “Malcolm”, and “Kris”. Most of the entertainment came from fans and commentators attempting to pronounce the last name because really only had one entertaining game here, but Blake Griffin and his bionic leg were enough to bring some internet chatter and a few memes.
We had the entire northeast chirping about a “Boston Sweep” after the Celtics did just that to Indiana. Thankfully, for everyone in the sports-world, that fell apart shortly thereafter.
We even had everybody believing David Blaine was going on tour once again as the Magic took game one from Toronto only to be told unicorns in fact aren’t real but the Raptors absolutely are, as they completed the Gentleman’s Sweep. The Magic are a fun, young team with real pieces. While they will most likely trade them all away, this current time of hope for my fellow Orlandians is an exciting time.
That’s just the East! The West was arguably better:
We got to watch two of the best Point Guard’s in the league battle all series long, with Damian Lillard sinking the shot of the playoffs (until Kawhi came calling) and the most disrespectful wave g’bye NBA Twitter ever saw. “Dame” was launched into mainstream news and received the coverage he deserves, and then some, 5 years late.
We had Patrick Beverly being Patrick Beverly, defending KD and the rest of the Warrior offense with more vigor than Durant defends his personal Twitter account. 31-point leads evaporated and the Warriors lost twice at home, which is astonishing. Still, they ended the series in 6.
We had 7 games of Popovich against Jokic and the young Nuggets. The proverbial passing of the torch from one small market team with international stars to another.
Everybody and everything was getting love. Storylines were everywhere.
The second round brought out even more fireworks. More personality from Joel Embiid. More attrition in the form of a 4OT game in Portland. More emotion from Kawhi Leonard than ever documented after hitting a series clincher that seemingly hung on the rim for an eternity. More attention to the freshly-rekindled, ever-annoying, yet enticing argument about whether or not the Warriors are better without the best player in the league in their lineup. More talk about the league. More basketball.
So as Golden State calmly struts into their 5th straight Finals appearance, and Kawhi Leonard (acting King of the North) leads his squad to unfamiliar territory, the basketball world has been blessed with a post-season of young next-gen stars developing into household names and storylines that will carry over for years to come.
Yes, the league is better with LeBron. Like golf is better with Tiger. But as the new eras grow into their own, the NBA will be sitting pretty for years to come thanks to post-seasons like this one.
So if we look ahead, the NBA is better off without LeBron for these playoffs. Just not too many more.
Plus, thanks to Playoff-Dark-30 not going into effect, we get to creepily watch his family celebrate Taco Tuesday, which is… fun.
And with that, I’ll take the Dubs in 5.