This year’s NBA Finals averaged 14.3 million viewers over the five-game series, down from last year’s average of 15 million viewers.
Though Sunday night’s Game 5 between the Los Angeles Lakers and Orlando Magic drew the second smallest audience of the series — 14 million viewers — the five finals games are the five most watched telecasts since the end of the TV season May 20.
Game 4, which drew 16 million viewers and a 9.4 household rating, tops the list.
Since ABC bought the rights to broadcast the NBA Finals starting in 2003, the three highest-rated championship rounds have one thing in common — the Lakers.
By far the most popular were the 2004 Finals, when the Lakers had a roster with four future Hall-of-Famers — Karl Malone, Gary Payton, Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant. Even though the Lakers lost to the Detroit Pistons in five games, the series attracted an average of almost 18 million viewers.
The only series since 2004 that outperformed this year’s finals was last year’s, when the Boston Celtics beat the Lakers in six games.
Since the Celtics and Lakers have combined to win more than half of the league’s championships and reside in two of the league’s larger media markets, ratings were expected to be high.
With these finals featuring Orlando, a team without a large national following, the NBA was hoping that the popularity of the year’s earlier rounds would carry over.
The Lakers-Magic series also presents another year’s distance from the worst rated finals in NBA history, the 2007 match-up between the San Antonio Spurs and Cleveland Cavaliers. That series was one of just two in NBA history that averaged fewer than 10 million viewers a game.