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The Bubble Burst: What’s Next For LeBron James And The NBA After Historic Ratings Collapse?

LeBron James is supposed to be must-see TV. His whole career has been billed as the next Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali and Tiger Woods all rolled into one.

He relocated to Hollywood not just to be the biggest attraction in sports, but also to rival the star power of DiCaprio, Denzel, Damon and Depp.

So why didn’t anyone watch James’ latest blockbuster?

On Sunday, he inched closer to Jordan, winning his fourth NBA title and fourth NBA Finals MVP. He did it while wearing the glitziest, star-making uniform in sports, a Los Angeles Lakers jersey.

But when the Lakers beat the Miami Heat in Game 6 to win the title Sunday night, just 5.6 million people watched, according to Nielsen Media Research. That’s less than one-third of the people who watched Game 6 last year between Golden State and Toronto. 

In 1998, when Jordan won the title in a Game 6 on a Sunday night, 36 million people watched. In fact, the average episode of “The Last Dance,’’ the 10-episode ESPN documentary on Jordan’s final title run, averaged the same number of live viewers as the Lakers’ deciding game against the Heat. The Lakers-Heat series finished as the least-watched NBA Finals of the last 40 years.  

What just happened? And why?

Is the COVID-19 pandemic a basketball-market circuit breaker, a temporary halt to the game’s popularity? Or has the league’s embrace of politics and protest caused a market collapse?  

You have to ask all these questions now. Surely ABC/ESPN and TNT are asking. They have the NBA rights locked up through 2025 in a contract that requires them to pay $2.2 billion per year.

Maybe playing a season in a bubble was a big mistake. Maybe the social justice messaging was overdone. Go woke, go broke? What does the league have to do to recover?

“How long do you have?’’ Peter Vecsey, longtime New York sports columnist and analyst on TBS and NBC, told OutKick. “What do they have to do? Like, everything. . .and then bring back Jordan. Look, the NBA has turned me off completely. And with the politics brought into it, they’ve already lost half the fans.’’

“In a normal world,’’ NBA legend Isiah Thomas told OutKick, “we could achieve and strive for things. Once COVID hit, it’s all survival mode. To try to hold leagues to an unrealistic standard of normalcy — I don’t think that’s fair.’’

“It doesn’t matter where you fall on the political spectrum,’’ legendary sports broadcaster Bob Costas told OutKick, “it’s just a fact that there is alienation over having this (social justice messaging) thrust in everyone’s face every time you just want to watch a game. I’m not saying that to take a stand; that’s just the reality. This is also a business.’’

“The NBA is going through a perfect storm,’’ former NBA coach Doug Collins, who was one of Michael Jordan’s coaches with the Bulls, explained to OutKick. “Everything came together at the same time. COVID, the economic crisis, social injustices. People’s lives have been turned upside down.’’

From across the sports landscape, different experts gave OutKick different explanations about what’s at stake for LeBron and the NBA. I talked with legendary former players and coaches, sports business experts and media analysts. To me, there is one undeniable fact:

When Jordan played, people had to watch. When Ali fought, people watched. If Tiger Woods is in the lead in the final round of the Masters in mid-November, people will stop what they’re doing to watch. That’s the power of the pursuit of history, athletic brilliance and charisma. It won’t matter that the Masters is normally played in April.

The all-time, all-time greats are always must-see TV.

The entire point of the NBA bubble was the preservation of 35-year-old LeBron and the Lakers’ title quest. LeBron and the Lakers, two iconic brands, were supposed to be immune from the harshest ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

So why did the bubble burst?

Black Lives Matter and the Anthem

Black Lives Matter changed the entertainment equation for sports. Games that traditionally started with the National Anthem, wrapped in a pristine, easily digestible and celebratory view of Americana, have become full-blown expressions of what’s wrong with the USA.

Whether the players are right or wrong doesn’t matter. It’s disconcerting to a large portion of the audience. It was counter-marketing to the image of an NBA bubble at Disney World, the Happiest Place on Earth.

Imagine Disney pivoting away from Mickey Mouse and making Cardi B its pitchman. Imagine women dressed in Hooters attire strapping seat belts on mom, dad and their pre-teen kids as they board Space Mountain. It’s not the worst idea, but no one would express surprise if a portion of the traditional customer base complained loudly and ended their patronage.

B.J. Armstrong understands the business of basketball. A 53-year-old former teammate of Jordan, front-office executive for the Chicago Bulls and current player agent, he has been around the game for decades.

Armstrong believes that when it comes to social justice messaging, you cannot separate the business aspects of basketball from the players’ humanity.

“I go back to who I am,’’ he said. “For 53 years, I’ve been a black male in America. I can’t tone down that I’m a black American. I can’t tone that down.’’

You didn’t have to look far to see social justice messaging in the NBA bubble. It was painted right on the court: Black Lives Matter. Other messages were on the backs of jerseys and patches on coaches’ shirts.

It was the theme of the basketball season, with players gaining control of their sport and wanting to take a stance on the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. The Milwaukee Bucks refused to play after a policeman shot a Wisconsin man, Jacob Blake, seven times in the back. The Bucks’ refusal shut down the bubble. 

Was it too much?

“It’s too early to say that. There are conflicting constituencies on this,’’ said Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd., a leading sports consulting firm.

If you want to build a stadium, sell your team, or make broadcast deals, you call Ganis. He is a regular adviser to NFL owners. Ganis also has advised Major League Baseball owners on media rights.

“There are fans that don’t want politics forced down their throats during sports events,” he continued. “And there are players who want to use their platform to get their interests across. And there are NBA owners, who have it in their DNA to push social justice messages. How do you satisfy all of them without getting players upset, players being heard and respected, owners’ DNA being satisfied and fans not feeling overwhelmed?’’

Ganis said that if any league becomes “excessively political,’’ it will lose some fans who use sports to get away from life’s realities. 

But 2020 is an aberration, Ganis said. Give everything that happens this year a mulligan. There are too many potential other factors for fading interest in the NBA to pin the ratings on social justice messaging.

His point — and several other experts made the same one — is that it’s not comparing apples to apples when you compare this year’s NBA ratings to any other year.

We’ll get a more accurate look at the NBA’s health next season, assuming things are more back to normal. And Ganis believes that if the social messaging continues this strong next year, it could be a problem for the NBA. Fans might be more accepting of it this year — a year of national angst — than in the future.

Costas, looking purely from the business perspective, saw other potential issues. He said there is a long history of athletes using their platform to address social issues.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised a gloved fist at the 1968 Olympics. But that was a one-time thing, Costas said. He pointed out that Ali’s messages were “effective and significant.’’

“But another question I think is relevant is this: If you’re going to permit social justice messages — which I am not opposed to — let’s look at this with a clear eye (and not say) which of these messages we agree and disagree with.’’

Costas asked how the NBA can stop a player who wants to push the message “Free Hong Kong,’’ which hits closely to the NBA’s financial ties to China. Or what if a player wants a pro-Trump message?

So what can the NBA do from here? Does it need an exit strategy from social messaging?

“Players can find different parts of their platform to use, their own press conferences, Twitter accounts, sponsorship deals,’’ Ganis said. “Does it have to be in the three-hour window (during games)?’’

He said owners can fund the players’ social justice efforts, too. That way, players, owners and fans can all be satisfied.

“I can’t put my finger on why some people get turned off because of social issues that people take a stand on, which I applaud,’’ said Jim Jackson, a former NBA player and current TNT broadcaster. “You can’t take the voice away from the players.’’

But can you take it away from the games and put it on a billboard?

“Not possible,’’ Armstrong said. “After playing professional basketball, being an athlete and all those things, this all comes down to one thing for me: respect.

“People see me and say, `You played for the Bulls. But how many people actually see me? Do you see your jersey, favorite team, favorite athlete that plays for the team. Or do you see. . .me?

“So now what you’re doing is asking me to not be authentically myself. My question is `Do you not want to deal with it, or not want to see me?’ I respect you; you respect me. From that respect, you and I can now have an intelligent conversation about how to solve this perceived problem.’’

Copyright 2001 NBAE Mandatory Credit: Mike Powelll/Allsport

Expansion and ambition

Nearly two decades ago, the National Basketball Association and its shoe partner, Nike, launched the product intended to replace Michael Jordan as the game’s greatest ambassador — LeBron James. 

On its then-all-powerful cover, Sports Illustrated hailed the 17-year-old as “The Chosen One,” the heir to Air Jordan. The first name mentioned in the profile story of the would-be King was Michael Jordan, not LeBron James. 

The rollout of the NBA and Nike’s marketing campaign instantly established the stakes: King James would chase the ghost of Michael Jordan.

As campaigns often do, the LeBron crusade reacted to societal changes and expanded its ambition. While James was winning titles as a member of the Miami Heat, a black teenager, Trayvon Martin, was killed by a volunteer neighborhood watchman in Florida, sparking the Black Lives Matter movement.

The LeBron crusade recalibrated, diving headfirst into social activism surrounding police brutality and eventually politics. James campaigned for Hillary Clinton in 2016. He financed a significant portion of a school in his hometown of Akron. He publicly sparred with President Trump. He’s now the face of a voter drive.

LeBron James chased Muhammad Ali, the most internationally relevant sports figure in American history, an athlete known for his importance inside and outside the arena of sports. 

LeBron took on all comers. Tiger Woods and Babe Ruth, Wayne Gretzky and, yes, Jordan and Ali, too. Every time he stepped onto the court, we were watching history. It was perfect.

The problem is, James isn’t Ali. He isn’t Jordan. Woods. Gretzky. Any of these guys. For one thing, he isn’t the greatest player of all time. That’s a campaign that ESPN, TNT, and Nike are pushing. It’s a campaign that works for the talk shows built around endless arguments. 

ESPN’s “Last Dance’’ ruined the Jordan-vs-LeBron narrative. The NBA’s television partners do what they can to convince us that what we’re seeing now is better than anything we’ve seen before. It’s a clever gimmick perfect for an American public trained to document their witnessing of and participation in history on Facebook and Instagram. 

“Last Dance’’ disrupted the illusion, reminding us of the reality of Jordan’s historical greatness, competitiveness and ability to captivate. No one honestly believes anymore that James can catch Jordan.

James plays in the wrong television era to compete with Jordan and the other all-time greats. Jordan didn’t surpass Bill Russell, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird because studio debate shows said so. Jordan slayed the NBA dragons with sustained on-court brilliance so awe-inspiring that his ascendance to the throne was never even debated.

It was a story of history being told, and you had to watch every minute.

“Back in the day, you wanted to watch Michael Jordan or Magic and it was something amazing. You had to invest that 2½ hours, then watch maybe later on SportsCenter,’’ said Andrew Marchand, the sports media reporter for the New York Post. “You had to make an appointment to be there.

“Younger demographics don’t even think about turning on TV. Do they put on cable TV or broadcast networks? I don’t know any kid that does that. There isn’t any reason to be on Turner (watching) unless you’re a fan of the NBA … The NBA is losing (the) drive-by audience.’’

Of course, customers consumed sports media differently in Jordan’s day. Now, Marchand said, if you don’t turn on the TV, LeBron’s highlights will pop up on social media in a few minutes.

“That can’t-miss moment?’’ Marchand said. “You can miss it now.’’

The lack of conflict, rivalry and animus have made basketball far less compelling drama than the NFL. The NBA has become a highlight show. Jordan, Bird, Magic were so compelling you didn’t want to reduce them to highlights.

You don’t condense Tiger Woods into highlights. Or Tom Brady. 

But that’s exactly what James is, a series of highlights, not a real narrative that people believe.

Armstrong said he took his kids to an NBA Finals game two years ago, Golden State against Cleveland, and they were sitting up close, in the sixth or seventh row.

“We’re at the game,’’ Armstrong said. “We’re AT the game. And my son says, `Hey dad, check this out.’ He shows me the game on his phone.

“I said, `I know, we just saw that play live. We could almost have touched the players.’ “

So James is at the stadium and on your TV, but he’s also in your pocket, on your phone or wherever you go.

And maybe that’s too much James. Is there such a thing as LeBron Fatigue?

“We didn’t get Michael Jordan Fatigue,’’ Jackson said. “But we didn’t have social media then, either. LeBron has benefitted from it, but is hurt a little bit by it, too.’’

Fans are forgiving, to a point

In 1994, Major League Baseball got into labor battles — millionaire players vs. billionaire owners — and it spilled into the fans’ entertainment and spoiled their fun.

They canceled the World Series.

When baseball came back, fans were not automatically forgiving. Attendance fell, and players suddenly were taking the field before games and staying after them to sign autographs.

Costas said the NBA can learn from MLB how to reconnect and recover from the bubble season.

“A lot of fans were alienated by the constant squabble over finances,’’ he said. “Here’s what happened: They came back and they played, and slowly fans came back.”

Costas pointed to the night in 1995 when Cal Ripken passed Lou Gehrig’s record for consecutive games played. And then, of course, there was the 1998 home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. 

“A lot of things that put the focus back on the game happened,” Costas said. “So maybe that’s the short answer: When the focus was put back on the game, the game’s appeal asserted itself.’’

Collins and Vecsey say that if the game is to sell itself, though, it could use a little tweaking.

“The beauty of the game is there,’’ Collins said. “The players today are so talented.’’

But Collins, an analytics guy, is worried. He said that statistics show that a 12- or 15-foot jump shot for two points isn’t worth the risk anymore. So offenses run down the floor and plant two players in the corners beyond the 3-point line. Then, two defenders stand next to them and the mid-court game is no longer in existence.

“We’ve taken away the part of the floor where Hall of Famers used to hang out,’’ Collins said. “Most every team plays the same way now.’’

And Collins believes the fraternization among players and lack of intense rivalries is also hurting the game.

“In watching ‘The Last Dance,’ I had a lot of people come up to me and said it took them back to a style of play that is no longer around, of teams not liking each other,’’ he said. “All these players you see today have grown up through AAU basketball. They know each other. They’re friends.’’

To me, the game today looks like the All-Star Games of the past, an exhibition where players just spread out and don’t do the dirty work close to the basket. In Jordan’s days, the Detroit Pistons had Jordan Rules, where someone was supposed to knock him to the court as hard as possible every time he got near the basket.

Not everyone thinks the NBA has a problem. John Ourand, who covers the media for Sports Business Journal, said he is “bullish on the NBA as a TV property.’’

“Yes, this is going to be the lowest NBA Finals series on record, but it’s a bad comparison,’’ he said. “The NBA Finals have never gone up against the NFL. It had to go against the baseball playoffs, the NHL Stanley Cup, college football starting up.

“The NBA is down, of course. The NFL is down. MLB is down. NHL, college football, horse racing, NASCAR. In all those sports, you’re seeing ratings drop, but in aggregate, the amount of sports viewing has actually increased.’’

Ourand acknowledged that NFL ratings are down just 10 percent, which is nowhere near the record crash of NBA ratings.

Still, Ourand believes TNT and ESPN are not nervous about their investments.

There are always multiple reasons for ratings drops. For one, cord-cutting has affected the NBA more than other sports, he said, because younger people who don’t watch TV on cable make up a good chunk of the NBA audience.

He and Armstrong both said that the NBA is well-aware that its future is in getting to consumers on their phones.

But how do you monetize that?

“Everybody’s trying to figure that out,’’ Ourand said.

Thomas is even more positive about the NBA than Ourand. In fact, he thinks the NBA season was a smashing success, playing at an unfamiliar spot on the calendar.

“The bubble worked in terms of completing the season,’’ he said. “If you get into survival mode in terms of completing the season, the NBA players, sponsors and businesses all did what we had to do.

“I don’t think you measure anything as good or bad during COVID. You have to measure it by `Did you survive?’ You’ve got to remember where it all started. We all started from zero with a blank piece of paper. This has never been done before in a pandemic.’’

So imagine next season. The NBA is in its regular time slot. And James is back again, going for yet another championship.

Will you be watching?

“I’ve turned off the league,’’ said Vecsey, who did not watch one postseason game this year. “Do they honestly believe they’re going to get people back when it’s time to sell tickets?’’

You can dismiss Vecsey as an old man longing for days gone by. What you can’t do is argue the NBA is replacing season-ticket holders and television viewers who share his perspective with a new crop of basketball addicts. 

Written by Greg Couch

Greg earned the 2007 Peter Lisagor Award as the best sports columnist in the Chicagoland area for his work with the Chicago Sun-Times, where he started as a college football writer in 1997 before becoming a general columnist in 2003. He also won a Lisagor in 2016 for his commentary in RollingStone.com and The Guardian.

Couch penned articles and columns for CNN.com/Bleacher Report, AOL Fanhouse, and The Sporting News and contributed as a writer and on-air analyst for FoxSports.com and Fox Sports 1 TV. In his journalistic roles, Couch has covered the grandest stages of tennis from Wimbledon to the Olympics, among numerous national and international sporting spectacles. He also won first place awards from the U.S. Tennis Writers Association for his event coverage and column writing on the sport in 2010.

84 Comments

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    • I thought the same thing, Richard. All these interviews and an article with an excessive word count that could have been summed up in one paragraph. Really hope that arenas come back to as full a capacity as possible for 2021-22 so we can FINALLY put this to bed once and for all what the audience is saying.

    • Exactly right Richard. Fans are fed up too. The athletes do not live in the real world. I learned that during the pandemic when they were posting videos of themselves from their mansions trying to pedal their merchandise to devastated unemployed poor folks (who had no food) and poor front line workers.

    • The “experts” get it. They know, but they just can’t admit it. What are they going to say…”We’ve learned that the overwhelming American electorate that is not racist really does not like being told they are racist, and they were born that way.”

      When you run out of arguments, you pull a BJ Armstrong…[Whining] saying,….This is me, I’m more than a Chicago Bull. GTFOH. If he wasn’t “a Bull” he would have zero notoriety.

      We, the vast-vast majority who love Country and each other, are winning and winning big!

      • Robert, great comment. All of it. The “experts” do get it….But like you said, they can’t admit it. As Whitlock said in a previous column, the “experts” are in a sense “stock touts”. They have incentive to keep lying about Lebron’s greatness. ABC, TNT, MSESPN have so much invested in the NBA they have to keep pushing the narrative that Lebron is the greatest ever. The NBA is not even about serious sports competition anymore, not like it used to be, and not like the NFL. Like Couch said in this column, Lebron is a “series of highlights”. In comparison to the NFL, only a small percentage of people find it worthwhile to watch an entire NBA game.

    • “We didn’t get Michael Jordan Fatigue,’’ Jackson said. “But we didn’t have social media then, either.”

      Sorry, Greg…but I’m getting BIG TIME FATIGUE reading and re-reading this stuff.
      Like Richard (above) said…the experts STILL don’t get it.
      And if I had to explain “it”…then ipso facto.

      • Rick, I’ve got BIG TIME FATIGUE also. I can’t stand hearing about Lebron. I am so sick of Lebron that whether the experts get it or not is so far secondary to me just hoping they will go away one way or another. I’m as sick of the NBA as I am of the Kardashians and I would even go so far as to say the NBA uses as fake narratives and storylines as the Kardashians…..Lebron, please, Go away! Lebron, why did you even have to come back after you voted to go home from the bubble? (oh yeah that’s right, your racist liberal elitist friends said they wouldn’t pay you if you went home)

  1. He inched closer to Jordan LOL that’s rich Michael Jordan did a lot more in less time than the queen and this so called championship where they only played 62 games had a ton of time off to heal up and rest players opted out is a farce. But the queen did do one thing better destroy the league single handedly and let me end with 6-0 6MVP

  2. I’m with Vescey on this. Even before the NBA became Captain Protest and the Woke-teers, the product wasn’t engaging as in years past. EVERYBODY’S chuckin’ 3s, even the bigs (How the hell are you saying you grew up inspired by Hakeem and Tim Duncan yet you’re out here wanting to play like Steph?), it’s SUPER top heavy thanks to everybody wanting to buddy up and super-team (why even bother to watch when you know it’s maybe 4 or 5 teams at best that are actual title contenders?), and their biggest torch carrier is the most divisive, ignorant, insecure individual that the trash media wants to place on Mt. Rushmore alongside the greats before him. Y’all can have it. I’m out.

  3. Great article. I will not be back next season or any season. Only way I would go to a game now is if it was all expenses paid, and they paid me $40 an hour for my time to get there, watch the game, and go home. Otherwise, my time and money are too valuable to me to waste on the NBA anymore.

  4. The ‘experts’ do not understand what the NBA did to its casual fans was personal. Shoving BLM down viewers throats and pushing far left politics at every game. I do not want to be called a racist by the NBA. The experts are truly blind and they so want their version of the truth to be reality. The MLB strike was never a personal attack, but the NBA wokeness was. And that’s why many fans will NOT come back or not show up at the arenas. Lebron destroyed the league while being enabled by Silver, MSESPN and TNT.

  5. Great article. I think the analogy to MLB is spot on. Over time it can recover. However half the people on a good day watch the NBA compared to Jordan’s peak and the population is much higher. The NBA isn’t must see TV anymore and James isn’t. The NBA is threes and layups mostly. Impressive to see the range but the style is boring. Shaq was must see. A bruiser down low. Kobe was fun, he had a killer instinct even though he wasn’t as a good as Jordan. The Last Dance exposes all of the NBAs flaws in its current style of play. A bulls game with scores in the 80s was awesome. Physical battles. You’re spot on. If lebron was must see the ratings wouldn’t be this bad.

  6. Indications of the reasons for ratings decline should be evident due to market research. Based on the Commissioner’s statement to scale back politics next season, it appears research showed many people were turned off by politics and thus turned off the NBA.

  7. These people need to look up, ‘Occam’s Razor.’

    Has Isiah Thomas ever been right about anything since he stepped off the court as a player?

    And then there’s BJ Armstrong…Boo hoo & GTFOH. I’ll never watch another second of the NBA.

    “But can you take it away from the games and put it on a billboard?

    “Not possible,’’ Armstrong said. “After playing professional basketball, being an athlete and all those things, this all comes down to one thing for me: respect.

    “People see me and say, `You played for the Bulls. But how many people actually see me? Do you see your jersey, favorite team, favorite athlete that plays for the team. Or do you see. . .me?

    “So now what you’re doing is asking me to not be authentically myself. My question is `Do you not want to deal with it, or not want to see me?’ I respect you; you respect me. From that respect, you and I can now have an intelligent conversation about how to solve this perceived problem.’’”

    • What…I don’t see you, BJ? I don’t SEE you?
      You can’t be “authentically” yourself by just living your life?
      Ohhh…here we go again…YOUR life…ahhhhh…there’s the rub.
      Know what…pick up some books and read about other cultures and what they went through…and stop pretending you know ME.
      And if you believe the bullshit that the King of Brentwood is peddling then you’re too stupid for ME to even have a conversation with you.

  8. The traditional appeal of sports in general is to see people effortlessly do things that you know you can’t do at all.

    I know I can’t hit a MLB fastball.
    I know I wouldn’t last too long on an NFL field.
    I can’t ice skate..at all!.
    For basketball, I can’t dunk much less play above the rim but I can hit the occasional 3-pointer.

    Today’s NBA has devolved into a long ass 3-point shooting contest. All that is missing is some greasy dude handing out giant stuffed animals or it would be indistinguishable from your typical county fair/amusement park.

    It’s boring.

  9. The “experts” are in denial. If anything, the frustration with Covid and no sports for months would INCREASE viewership and interest. Bob Costas is a Woke NBC guy from way back(remember his weak attempt at being a gun control advocate a few years back) and won’t criticize the cause. Jackson and B.J. may agree with activism but would not criticize if they did not due to their relationships with players. Mark Cuban made a total ass of himself in recent bouts with Ted Cruz and Megyn Kelly. They don’t get it! Low ratings for August day games are one thing, but Finals ratings are shocking even to me, who predicted awful ratings.(not 70%!) This league will continue to fade if it remains DISHONEST and anti-American, the customer is always right. BLM and ANTIFA are not any sport’s base.

  10. I figured the NBA was counting on pandemic effected TV ratings as the reason/excuse. I think they’ll be disappointed when the season starts anew. The ratings screamed for the non-stop messaging be removed so we could just watch the game as a release from the bad news. They decided to pile on. And with a mostly bogus message(according to crime stats). Instead Lebron kept hammering us over the head every time a suspect resisted arrest, which contributed to their predicaments, followed by endless riots to a largely bogus angle. It went way beyond being temporarily turned off by a political opinion. Good luck next year NBA. You’ll need it.

    As an aside, I have been blown away how far and wide Critical Race Theory, Intersectionality and Post-modernism has infected so many institutions. Disturbing.

    • Or if you don’t wear a mask in certain places, you could get arrested. It’s all about power and control.

      Not to mention most ads on TV and magazines will feature black people, when they represent less than 14% of the people. The people in charge are so afraid of being called “racist”.

  11. I was never a LeBron fan but certainly didn’t hate him. I don’t seem to recall him having problems with the law, I shrugged when he held his press conference to announce he was going to Miami (he was an UFA, he had earned it), etc. The tipping point came a few weeks ago with his “absolutely no comment” answer about matching the reward money to catch the person responsible for the attempted execution of the two officers in L.A.

    There is literally NOTHING the NBA can do which will result in me being a fan again. Like so many other people, I didn’t watch a single minute of any post season game. The NBA better hope they figure out the cord cutting youngsters or else the NBA will be shown after NCAA women’s kayaking but before the “World’s Strongest Man” competion on ESPN 5 in a few years.

  12. Most of the explanations given by the experts are gradual trends happening over multiple years, even decades. The ratings crash in 2020 was a nose dive. The only abrupt changes in the league were Covid, politics and scheduling. The games in the bubble looked fine. As a matter of fact, the off-court visuals were more interesting with the fan webcams etc. This leaves politics and scheduling. I give 90% to politics, 10% to scheduling.

  13. They live in denial until its too late. Kmart/Sears, Toys R Us, and J.C. Penny didn’t listen to their customers. Could someone please explain if the NBA or Networks have to refund advertisers if ratings don’t meet target of viewership. Honestly I have not watched a baseball game in 20 years. The only reason I pay attention is for DraftKings for the NBA. WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND BEGS PEOPLE TO RESPECT THEM. I have respect for my parents and God. Sorry LeBron

    • Haha, great comment. All this NBA fixation on “put some respect on my name,” someone please tell them you earn respect, you do not demand it. You also need to give it to get it, and haranguing the majority of your customers for the “systemic racism” they allegedly support and benefit from isn’t showing any respect at all to the people or the nation that made their millions of dollars possible. Too many people love victim-hood because it’s handy for leverage in today’s whacked out culture. For professional athletes, the “brave social stands” apparently are good for their brands or street cred or some F’ing thing.

      • Great comments by both of you. You can’t expect LeBron and many other athletes to learn the lessons we learned about respect. Most came from single family households and have been catered to since AAU ball.

  14. 84.5%. That’s how much the last game of the NBA finals is down sense 1998. This is what happens when you throw your lot in with the Left. The VAST majority of sports fans, who are much more conservative than the general public, reject it flatly and tune out accordingly.

  15. To Gary’s point, I remember when Blockbuster Video was a huge success. All of sudden Netflix came on the scene and Blockbuster didn’t pay any attention. Customers continued to leave and by the time Blockbuster took serious notice the damage was done. Mark Cuban is an ass, but he’s not a dumbass.
    He knows exactly why viewership tanked and refuses to admit it. The China hypocrisy just compounds the problem. When I ask you for an Angus burger and you give me a shit sandwich, I ain’t comin’ back.

  16. Michael Jordan made me dream of America as a teen. Seeing him play with the Bulls in Paris then later on a few times in the US when I immigrated was a dream come true.
    All LeBron does is shit on the country that has made him so rich, and shit on the people who spend their money to make him rich. Instead of shuts up when confronted with China, the antithesis of America and capitalism that has given him so much.
    LeBron doesn’t make me dream of America. He’s not the GOAT and will never be. The America I dreamt of is now represented by Jason Whitlock. Decency, values, courage, etc…

  17. As popular as the NBA was in the ’90s, who knew BJ Armstrong was a self-obsessed, over-emotional little girl? Judging by his comments, that’s exactly what he is today.

    Considering that is the type of people involved in the league now, the NBA is doomed. I wish the NBA traded on the stock market….I’d be shorting the hell out of it.

  18. B.J. Armstrong’s “I gotta be me” view is nonsense. Working people throughout America, with freedom of speech, check that at the door of their jobs. I’ve said it before — you don’t want your server, between seating you and handing over the menus, spewing their views on abortion and gun rights.

    There is no place for employees, in uniform, on the clock and with customers present, to be virtue signaling in ways that detract from the business for which they’re working. Pro athletes have 21 hours per day to act out passionately on whatever causes matter to them. They have no right to do it in the workplace, if there’s even a hint that it will hurt the bottom line by driving away the people who pay the bills.

    So I guess I blame the owners for allowing it. Bunch of rich guys afraid of their athletes.

  19. All of these spin articles miss one glaring hole: the NBA was poised to the only major sports league in the country that would be on prime time TV. For months until the NFL picked up and baseball got interesting. Add in that it would have had a captive audience of Covid shut-ins due to social distancing rules. It should have been a ratings bonanza.

    Instead, they got absolutely smoked by the PGA. BY GOLF. Then continued its downward spiral into the finals. I mean, when a 3pm White Sox-A’s game draws 900K versus the prime-time deciding game of the NBA finals getting 5.6 million, it speaks volumes. Get woke, go broke

  20. Does Armstrong even believe that? He’s a player agent, so he has to parrot the party line.

    And no BJ, I don’t care at all about 95% of you beyond can you play basketball. I don’t care what Tom Cruise (or whatever actor) thinks either. Or the chef for the next restaurant at which I eat. Or what the Home Depot manager thinks. You see a pattern here? In more civil times people used to say at a dinner party you don’t bring up religion or politics, because whatever you think you will likely piss some people off. This isn’t that complicated snowflake. Rarely does anyone want “the whole you” from anyone behind maybe your spouse. They want what you are good at or is useful to them, and they rest you can save for your family. Grow up and get over yourself.

  21. BJ Armstrong, just like everyone else, needs to prioritize their identity, since everyone is a sucker to being placed in a box, the least you can do is understand that your box in America is not being persecuted…everyone begins sentences with ‘As a ‘black’ American’…its such a weak sauce cop out

  22. I’m with Vescey. I used to watch the Rockets every once in a while. The bubble season, after the social justice crud started, I avoided it like a bad habit. I’ve got nothing for a sport/league where the “face” of the league references people who support the sitting president as racist.

    I should have known it was going to be different this year when Daryl Morey was damned by most of the league, including the leadership, when he showed courage and supported the folks in Hong Kong protesting against the Chinese Communist Party taking the freedoms from them that we take for granted.

    The face of the NBA was infamously quoted as saying Morey, who has a BS from Northwestern and an MBA from MIT, as being uninformed and ignorant of whats really happening in China.

    I’m done with them.

  23. You mentioned Muhammad Ali, but failed to state the key point: Ali NEVER hijacked a boxing crowd to get his message across. NEVER!

    Fans do not like politics shoved down their throats. Why would anyone think it is a good idea to offend 50% of their customers?

  24. I wanted to “Be like Mike” in the 90’s but 20 years later I want nothing to do with basketball or lebron. Nobody wants to be “like lebron”. It so clear how far the nba has fallen only the experts can’t see it because they need it themselves to survive.

  25. So, during a time when people have more free time than ever due to school being out, workers being home, the NBA suffers from horrible record-breaking viewership declines and so-called experts pin it on a variety of things and not squarely on the SJW stuff? Theso-ca;;ed experts want to sell us an alternate universe.
    Speaking for me, and my NBA seasons pass that went back to LeBron in cleveland. the first time, I’m out. The games are a 90 minute brainwashing exercise.
    Two things can be simultaneously be true:
    1) there are valid reasons to seek change
    2) I don’t want to ponder it while I’m trying to enjoy the game

    I have no intention of renewing my NBA Pass, it simply isn’t entertaining when the NBA is presented in a political context. My money, my choice.

  26. I for one, am sick of hearing that we are systematic racists, because we are white. I don’t know any racists.
    And, I for one, do Not even think about skin tone until someone points it out. There’s good people, and bad people on both sides.

  27. I just love it, how all the NBA so called experts still don’t get it ! I will look forward to seeing their ratings continue fall next year . Going to be very interesting to see how live attendance will be next year because If ppl stay away, what will be the NBA experts excuse then?

  28. Was the social justice messaging and anthem protesting a turn off? Of course. Quite frankly, all the rule changes that have made defense non-existent for the most part, as well as ISO play, isn’t a great turn on to purists either. One thing that even this site refuses to acknowledge, Lebron is not beloved by nba fans, hardcore or casual. He’s a disaster of a player and product of breaking the game to cater to casuals who come and go. His personality is grating, he has no loyalty, he has no real world IQ off the court, is completely detached from reality, hell I could go on. Even before I turned off the nba this year, I first turned off the Lakers last year when he joined them, and I was a 30 year fan. Guess what, I found I was far far far from alone as there is an entire subset of former Lakers fans who ditched the team the day he signed, because he is that much of a turn off. Unlike Michael Jordan, he is not recognized by people who have never watched a day of the nba either. The nba built itself around a player who they had to constantly change the rules for to make him “great”, who players of the past almost unequivocally agree wouldn’t be a top 5 star in previous eras, words never said about Jordan or even Kobe. This isn’t even touching on the fanbase he does have that follow him to each team he goes, which is completely riddled with some of the worst “fans” in the history of the game. Lebron is the worst thing to happen to the nba, but they kept pushing him and pushing him and eventually it caught up to them, and it’s hilarious that it happened as he’s on one of the most storied franchises in the biggest markets.

  29. Great article, appreciate the diverse view points. I trust Bob Costas more than the others because of his experience and independence. He has nothing to lose now, and so he is honest. Ganis is credible, but biased because of his position. He needs the NBA to do well. But at least he is honest in acknowledging the broader issue ” any league becomes “excessively political,’’ it will lose some fans” Bingo!

  30. I’m anxious to see how this plays out with in arena attendance if things ever get back to normal. I would imagine a good chunk of NBA season ticket holders will bail too. Couple that with the scary thought of coming out of an arena around 10:30 at night in some big cities should make attendance drop like a rock too.

  31. Sorry B.J. Armstrong, players will just have to “be themselves” outside of work like everyone else. Fans aren’t forking over their dollars to see poorly informed athletes make woke social gestures and deliver condescending lectures during games. It degrades the entertainment value (the commodity you’re selling) and insults the intelligence of the audience. Those who just can’t bear to keep their burning desire for political activism separate from the job they’re paid to do can retire early with their millions and do activism full time. This isn’t hard to understand.

  32. Excellent article and posts. This is simple:
    You show willful ignorance on China
    You imply white supremacy is an urgent issue in 2020 America
    You claim America is systemically racist
    You assume enough fans are shallow and uniformed enough that it won’t matter
    All with no acknowledgement to the incredible strides this country has made in the last 50 years making us the most diverse and prosperous nation on earth, warts and all.

    In the year of COVID, sports TV viewership should have been through the rough, and they know it.

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