As NBA teams get more belligerent, viewership sees a spike

By MATTHEW RITCHIE | February 1, 2018


CC BY-SA 2.0/Keith Allison
There has been an increase in the number of fights in the NBA this season.


The NBA is producing the best product of any professional sports league right now, besides that Lithuanian league that the Ball brothers play in. The Association houses some of the best and most recognizable athletes in the world. 

Its top superstars are all at the top of their game, with Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James reaching the elite 30,000-point club and Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry returning from injury and averaging 30.9 points per game, lighting up defenses per usual. 

It’s not only the “old guard” that has brought the League to new heights. The League has experienced an influx of young talent that has invigorated many teams throughout the NBA. 

Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo is the second leading scorer in the League at age 23; New Orleans Pelicans forward Anthony Davis is the fifth leading scorer at age 24; and there are a bevy of rookies and sophomores taking the League by storm in the form of Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, Utah Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell and 76ers guard Ben Simmons. 

The abundance of talent throughout the League has raised the quality of the NBA’s product. This improvement in the League’s product has led to a rise in viewership from the year before. Viewership of NBA programming on ESPN and TNT together is up 15 percent from last year, accumulating two million viewers per game. This is all while the NFL continues to lose viewership.

This rise in popularity in the Association is not only due to the ridiculous amount of talent available. In recent weeks, the NBA has looked more like ‘90s WWF than organized basketball. 

It seems that almost every single player in the League has gotten on another’s last nerve, and the most insignificant interaction could set a player off. In a time where NBA players have been criticized for being softer than previous eras, there seems to be a new attitude sweeping the League. It’s an attitude of players wanting to fight as soon as another player offends them and has been a far cry from the delicate face-touching that is usually indicative of NBA “fights.” 

About a week and a half ago, there were NBA fights on three straight nights. It started when Chris Paul and the Houston Rockets played the Los Angeles Clippers. The game between the former teammates in Paul and Clippers forward Blake Griffin was belligerent, to say the least, and the night ended with four Rockets players attempting to storm the Clippers locker room to confront Griffin and guard Austin Rivers. 

The swirling increase in testosterone continued the next night, when Orlando Magic guard Arron Afflalo took a full swing at the Minnesota Timberwolves’ Nemanja Bjelica after they got tied up fighting for a rebound. 

When I say a full swing, I mean that Afflalo reared back and almost took off Bjelica’s whole head. Then on the next night, there was almost a full team brawl in the game between the Washington Wizards and the Charlotte Hornets. 

It wasn’t just these instances that showcased the recent attitude adjustment in the NBA. In a Toronto Raptors vs. Miami Heat game, NBA strongmen Serge Ibaka on Toronto and James Johnson on Miami engaged in fisticuffs. 

What was so intriguing about this fight was that James Johnson is a black belt in karate. Did you read that correctly? He is a black belt in karate. But Serge Ibaka was still heated enough to try and fight him. 

That’s what is so great about the NBA now. No one has any regard for their safety anymore and is willing to protect their honor against anything else. 

In another instance 6-feet tall (and I’m being generous with the height) Raptors guard Kyle Lowry was more than willing to meet 6-feet-11-inches forward Ben Simmons in the tunnel to fight him after both were ejected in an on-court scuffle. The height difference between the two alone would have made for a better fight than any boxing pay-per-view in the past 10 years. 

The media’s reaction continues to amplify the NBA’s rising popularity. Each night, the top trending topics on Twitter were filled with that night’s NBA fight. They would also be the top night stories on ESPN and Fox Sports 1. 

The attention garnered from these fights additionally creates more excitement for future matchups. The League has found a way to drum up interest in teams that usually don’t matter. 

Fans are now looking forward to a mid-week matchup between two non-playoff NBA teams because of a fight-induced rivalry. 

This is a level of excitement and engagement that other leagues could only dream of reaching. I’m not totally advocating for grown men to fight more on the court, but I am saying that the product is way more exciting if they do. 

I’m just saying, if NBA Commissioner Adam Silver decided to schedule a cage match during the All-Star Break, the popularity of the NBA would skyrocket through the roof. 

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