James Schumacher/CC BY 2.0
Damian Lillard may have been the best player in the entire first round.
In a media atmosphere where the entirety of television is fighting for viewership from a week-to-week basis, it’s important to not fall behind in the ratings war. With the final season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, the National Hockey League (NHL) Playoffs and the National Basketball Association (NBA) Playoffs all occurring at the same time, each night is a battle to capture the eyes of America.
With that being said, a recent report produced a rather concerning statistic for the viewership numbers of the first-round matchups of the NBA Playoffs. According to Michael Mulvihill of Fox Sports, as of April 19, the ratings for the playoffs were down 26 percent compared to the previous year’s games.
A ratings dip is common in leagues where it seems as though the same teams are always successful and always make the finals. But 26 percent is a number that should be a cause for major concern among NBA executives, one that should be taken seriously.
However, I am here to tell you why those 26 percent of two-person households should return back to the NBA as an advocate for the opening round of the playoffs.
There are few factors that have contributed to the reduction in viewership for the opening round of the playoffs. First off, there is a widespread feeling of fatigue coming from the league’s fans.
The NBA’s regular season spans six grueling months, from October to April, stuffed with 82 games that occur almost every night. Modern players and fans alike have complained about the duration of the season, with inquiries about reducing the number of games to closer to 60.
The sheer length of the season causes some star players to take multiple nights off in order to preserve their bodies for the playoffs. I get it — sometimes you just don’t want to play that night, which is totally understandable. However, that creates a disinterest in multiple stretches of basketball for the fans, which even has the possibility to leak into the first round of the playoffs. The casual fan could easily have checked out at the end of the season and not even realized that the playoffs had started yet.
This fatigue combines with the mystical sense of “predictability” that the NBA has to create a lack interest in the first round. Everyone believes that the league is rigged, pointing the last four finals matchups featuring the same two teams, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors.
This causes the fans to write off the early rounds as just fodder for the best teams, a glorified extension of the regular season at best.
If fans already feel as though they know who is going to win, there is far less incentive for them to tune in to the early rounds. Why watch if you already know what is going to happen?
There’s also a gaping hole in the NBA Playoffs, left by the biggest star that the league has seen since Michael Jordan. The Los Angeles Lakers missed the playoffs by quite a significant margin, meaning that LeBron James, the best player in the world, went home for the summer instead of playing in the postseason for the first time since the 2004-2005 season.
Without the largest draw in the league, a constant force in the playoffs that always attracts eyes, the casual fan has another reason to skip the playoffs. The Masters featured Tiger Woods winning for the first time since 2005 and produced its most streamed tournament ever, taking away from the early games for the NBA playoffs. The star power shone through, eclipsing the LeBron-less matchups.
So again I ask, why should anyone watch the NBA Playoffs? I will tell you, audience.
I want to preface my reasoning by stating that I understand that not every game in the first round is quality. Due to the lopsided talents between the higher and lower seeds, we’re bound to get some blowouts now and then. That’s just something you’re going to have to live with.
What you miss if you don’t tune into the first series is all of the entertainment that encapsulates the heightened pressure of a playoff series.
You would miss perennial role player Jared Dudley, who averages a career 4.9 points per game, flaming the hell out of the reigning Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons for being average in half court offense. This then devolved into a skirmish in Game 4 that resulted in the ejection of Dudley and Sixers guard Jimmy Butler.
Or you would miss the budding rivalry between two of the best point guards in the league, Russell Westbrook and Damian Lillard. The pairing seemingly hold actual distaste for one another, with Westbrook insinuating that he’s been dominating Lillard for years.
A heightened level of play has arisen from Lillard because of their rivalry, as he’s been put on an impressive performance throughout the series, capped off with his series-clinching buzzer beater in Game 5.
Even worse, you could miss the development of the Milwaukee Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo into one of the premier faces of the NBA. Their series already ended, with the number one seed making quick work of the Detroit Pistons. He averaged 21 points and 13 rebounds per game, putting to bed any questions about his ability to play well in the playoffs.
God, could you imagine missing the matchup between the black-Air-Force-1-wearing Patrick Beverley and the Golden State Warriors — a man who prides himself on being able to get into the heads of any of his offensive counterparts and the haughty superteam that views themselves as above all of the noise. Beverley already forced the ejection of Kevin Durant early in the series, and was an integral part to the Los Angeles Clippers stealing a game from the defending champs.
My entire point is that there is more to the NBA Playoffs than the result. Each game contains a storyline that captures the attention of the entire media in an instant.
If you’re skipping the first round, you’re liable to miss an important building block for the next series or the blossoming of an intense rivalry that will never die out. That’s just not something I’m okay with missing out on, and you should feel the same way.