The NBA came tantalizingly close to the first Finals rematch in over a decade between the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers — one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports.
While the 2023 clash between the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat looks comparatively underwhelming, the NBA and media partner Disney still hope to extend their Finals audience growth to a third straight year.
After sinking to an all-time low of 7.45 million average viewers for the pandemic-adjusted Finals between the Lakers and Heat in 2020, Disney’s ABC boosted Finals ratings in both 2021 and 2022, reaching an average of 12.4 million viewers last year for Golden State’s six-game triumph over the Celtics.
With the clash of two-time league MVP Nikola Jokić and Heat star Jimmy Butler, the league and Disney are riding on a wave of ratings momentum from the record-setting Eastern Conference Finals and the early postseason.
“We have one of the truly great players in the history of the game [Jokić], who will be highlighted alongside of some historic talent that’s going to make an exciting NBA Finals,” said ESPN analyst Mark Jackson, who will be covering his 15th NBA Finals, setting a new record for a Black game analyst in any major major sports championship event.
Jackson’s broadcast partner Jeff Van Gundy pointed to a broader transition among NBA luminaries. Van Gundy recalled how LeBron James’ first Finals appearance in 2007, a four-game loss for Cleveland to San Antonio, drew what was at the time a record-low audience for the event, years before James became one of the sport’s leading draws.
“There’s great talent coming in,” Van Gundy said. “Fans appreciate great basketball. You have to let these guys grow into their stardom to become household names.”