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The NBA is seeing a massive decline in popularity. The evidence is clear, especially when comparing the viewership of the NBA Finals to that of the NCAA Championship between Baylor and Gonzaga.
As OutKick founder Clay Travis pointed out on Twitter Wednesday night, the NBA Finals between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat drew only 7.4 million viewers, while the national title game drew a whopping 16.9 million viewers.
There’s a reason for that jarring discrepancy.
Clay argued on OutKick the Coverage Thursday that people are avoiding the woke culture agenda of the NBA. It’s gotten so bad that viewers would rather watch a documentary reliving the glory days of Michael Jordan and the Bulls than watch the NBA Finals happening in real time.
“Almost more people watched a documentary [The Last Dance] about Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls in the 1990s than watched the NBA Finals with LeBron James and the Lakers against the Heat in 2020,” Clay said. “Think about that for a minute.
“People liked the Jordan-era Bulls so much more than they like LeBron that they were more interested in watching a documentary on ESPN about a team from 20-plus years ago than they were in actually watching LeBron James and the Lakers play against the Heat in real time on ABC.”
And Clay isn’t buying any of the excuses from NBA defenders.
“A lot of people out there tried to defend the NBA and say, ‘Well, this was a different season. The fact that only 7 million people on average were watching.’ And then the numbers came out for Gonzaga-Baylor,” he said. “I was blown away by them, and I’m probably the only one who has pointed out the storyline here.
“Seventeen million people just about watched Gonzaga against Baylor. That’s two private schools (it’s not like it was Duke and Kentucky) that most sports fans don’t really have a strong rooting interest for. The game wasn’t even close, and yet that many people actually watched the NCAA title game.
“Ten million more people in this country watched a college basketball national title game than watched any of the six NBA Finals games.”
At this point, it’s hard to dispute what Clay is saying here.
OutKick writer Bobby Burack recently analyzed the viewership data between the NCAA title game and the NBA Finals games from the last few years, and found that they each drew comparable numbers in 2018 and 2019. In fact, the NBA actually had more viewers (17.6 million to 16 million) in 2018 than the NCAA title game.
After averaging close to 16.5 million from 2018-19, the NBA dropped almost 10 million in 2020 — but not because people stopped caring about the game.
“People like basketball. They crave it. They love the sport,” Clay said. “The NBA — instead of giving them a reason to love it, instead of embracing the Jordan era — they are actually turning basketball fans away with all of their woke politics and their lecturing.”
So why do college basketball, the NFL and other sports all dunk on the NBA? It wasn’t always that way. Viewership for Game 6 of the NBA Finals back in 1998 was 37 million (yes, you read that correctly). Game 6 of 2020 had just 7 million.
Why? Well, Clay had an answer for that too.
“Michael Jordan sold an era that everybody is included,” Clay said.
And it wasn’t just Jordan. All the superstars of this era — Charles Barkley, Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan, etc. — sold the idea that you should love basketball and should come watch them play it.
Nowadays, basketball is not about entertainment. If it were about entertainment, stars such as LeBron would not sit games out for “rest purposes” when fans pay a hefty price to come see them.
It’s a different time, and the NBA is heading in an unsustainable direction — whether they realize it or not. The new era of professional basketball is ruining everything the old era built.
Clay did a fantastic job breaking everything down. When you get a moment, you should go check out the podcast once it’s up on OutKick the Coverage.
Follow Clint Lamb on Twitter @ClintRLamb.