Reuters/Alonzo Adams-USA TODAY Sports
For the second year in a row, the Miami Heat and San Antonio Spurs will meet in the NBA Finals. It’s the first time in 16 years that the league has seen a rematch for the title, and it offers a rather similar parallel from the last rematch, which featured a superstar perimeter player chasing a three-peat, and a small-market team led by a businesslike power forward looking to play spoiler.
It would be an historic championship for either team. The Heat, led by LeBron James, are looking to become just the sixth team in NBA history to win their third straight title. The Spurs haven’t won it all since 2007, but another title would put the quiet but effective Tim Duncan and head coach Gregg Popovich in rarefied air, giving them five career championships.
With so much on the line, there could be a lot of interest in this year’s NBA Finals.
Even though fans saw this same matchup a year ago, the rematch could deliver even higher ratings. In 1998, the Chicago Bulls played the Utah Jazz in the Finals for a second consecutive season. After the 1997 series averaged 25.586 million viewers, the rematch averaged over 29 million viewers. It featured Michael Jordan carrying a Bulls team past the Utah Jazz, a small-market team with a less-heralded superstar, Karl Malone.
The 1998 season end up being Jordan’s last with the Bulls, and 2014 could be the last year James plays for the Heat. Like Jordan, James is unquestionably the most marketable player of his day, and his services will be sought by any team with the cap space to sign him. Teammates Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh also have the option of becoming free agents in the offseason, and all both might consider signing more lucrative contracts elsewhere.
Since the Big Three teamed up in Miami, the Heat have been great for ratings. The six NBA Finals before James’s “Decision” averaged an 8.6 rating. Each of Miami’s three straight Finals appearances have averaged over a 10.0 rating.
With James in South Beach, the Heat have been a large part of the NBA’s resurgence this decade. Not only is James the best player in the NBA, but many compare with him with the all-time greats, specifically Jordan. One more championship ring would give him three, putting him halfway behind Jordan’s six rings.
“We’re competing against the Michael Jordan of our era, the Chicago Bulls of our era,” Pacers head coach Frank Vogel said, after the Heat eliminated them from the playoffs.
The comparisons between James and Jordan are often controversial. Scottie Pippen raised eyebrows in 2011 for saying James is a better player than his former teammate. If James can win another title, the debate will gain even more traction.
Miami’s quest for a three-peat is certainly historic. James is a transcendent player in the prime of his career, looking to accomplish what few have. The four-time MVP is one of the most polarizing athletes in all of sports. His attempt at enhancing his legacy is one that might not be seen for years to come.
However, the dominance of James and the Heat could potentially backfire on the NBA. After four straight years of Finals appearances, some fans might be getting tired of Miami’s constant winning. Ratings for the team’s series against the Indiana Pacers were down from a year ago. Game Three drew the lowest ratings of any Eastern Conference finals game since 2010. That may be concerning news for ABC, which will carry every game of the best-of-seven series.
In 2013, the Spurs and Heat drew high ratings towards the end of the series, but San Antonio has never been known to increase viewership. Ever since the organization drafted Duncan in 1997 and won their first title in 1999, the Spurs have been known as a “boring” team. The Spurs title wins in 2003, 2005 and 2007 drew the lowest rating of any NBA Finals in the last 30 years.
“There is nothing that they should be doing differently,” NBA commissioner Adam Silver told the San Antonio Business Journal in June 2013. “By winning over a long period of time, the Spurs have done everything that could be asked of them to grow NBA basketball. If there is any blame to go around, it’s maybe that the league has not done a good enough job marketing the Spurs brand of basketball.”
The NBA Finals is set to begin on Thursday, June 5 in San Antonio.