Just last month, the NBA community was buzzing in anticipation of the Play-In Tournament. The Warriors were prepping to play the Lakers in a high-stakes game to determine the 7th seed. The nationally televised event drew 5.6 million viewers, the highest since the 2019 Western Conference Finals. The Warriors would then fall out of the playoffs, followed by a Lakers first-round exit; making this year’s finals the first without Lebron James or Steph Curry since 2010. A sign that the NBA might be turning over to the younger generation.
LeBron-less Finals: A Turning Point for the NBA
Diehard fans will tell you the NBA has done a poor job marketing its younger players, and the ratings for the rest of the playoffs might be Adam Silver’s punishment for this oversight. Last year’s bubble was a widely reported ratings disaster, thankfully, this year’s playoffs are up from that low bar. According to Sports Media Watch, Suns vs. Lakers performed 63% better than the comparable Clippers vs. Mavericks series from the bubble. Unfortunately, this is still down 15% from 2019’s comparable Warriors vs. Clippers series.
The aforementioned Lakers vs. Suns Game 4 drew an average of 5.38 million viewers. For comparison’s sake, here are recent figures for some other matchups:
- Nets vs Celtics Game Four: 3.47 million
- Jazz vs Grizzlies Game Three: 2.89 million
- Mavericks vs. Clippers Game Three: 2.63 million
- Bucks vs Heat Game Three: 2.49 million
- NBA Playoff Games Average: 2.89 million
LeBron James out of the Playoffs should point to what a luxury he truly is. Very few active players outside of Steph Curry can even come close to the millions of views he can generate. What does the NBA have to turn to when James and Curry fade? Who can be the next face of the NBA? The candidates that come to mind first are probably Kevin Durant, Steph Curry, and maybe Kawhi Leonard. Though these are all household names, they’re all at least a rung below James. In addition, an ideal candidate for the next face of the NBA should be a young, promising player that can represent the league for years to come.
This is not to say that the next face of the NBA doesn’t exist. In fact, looking at the crop of young talent, the NBA has missed its fair share of freebies.
The Luka Doncic and Trae Young trade was a great opportunity to shove those names into the face of the general public. Both players have already made positive impacts on the league and proven themselves as playoff performers. Doncic has put up video game numbers with a very pretty combination of fakes, stepbacks, turnarounds, and dimes. Not to mention his ability to reach international audiences. Young has done similar in the Eastern Conference, accepting the villain role and gaining the special attention of the biggest market in basketball.
Giannis Antetokounmpo was another missed opportunity. A young, athletically gifted player from Greece is sure to awe NBA newcomers from around the globe. He has an inspiring backstory, and a great personality, making it easy for new fans to latch on. He has already won two MVPs and a Defensive Player of the Year award, with even more potential to improve.
Zion Williamson may be the most hyped prospect since LeBron himself. He also has the athleticism and personality to captivate and retain new fans. He has already been an all-star and has massive potential. Yet, he has all but fallen out of the media cycle, making him just another household name for now.
To put James’ media greatness into perspective, Skip Bayless has nearly made a career off of criticizing LeBron James, it’s hard to fathom someone doing the same with Antetokounpo, Williamson, or Doncic. Until that happens, the NBA will be forced to shop particular matchups and the home stretch of LeBron’s career.
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