Heat vs. Thunder: With Stars Aligned, NBA Sets High Marks
Today's NBA lives and grows in the shadow of years past. Michael. Magic. Bird. Oscar. Wilt. Russell. Many viewers would rather be privy to any time but the present, despite the fact that—as Henry Abbott put so wonderfully in a post for TrueHoop—today's basketball is likely the greatest the sport has ever seen.
Yet the NBA hardly registered with most general sports fans over the last decade or so, and even much of the basketball faithful have remained unimpressed with a product built around the current generation of stars.
No more. The ratings are in, and whatever criteria is necessary to catch lightning in a bottle have apparently been met. The first two games of the NBA Finals have posted absolutely tremendous ratings, as a collision of two incredible teams, a direct matchup of the league's two best players and some incredibly straightforward narrative intrigue have pulled in more viewers than ABC has ever seen in such a scenario.
It's not the hatred of LeBron James, the charisma of Kevin Durant or even the deserved payoff after a lockout season. It's all of the above, as this particular stew has been boiling slowly toward this particular outcome for years.
It's a shame that the evolution of such a wonderful game would need token storylines to be truly elevated, but them's the ropes when it comes to capturing the attention of millions of people.
The fact that James is a walking immortal just isn't enough. That Durant is making a legitimate run at best-in-the-league status didn't have the appropriate narrative oomph. It's the framed face-off of those two players—and the terrific teams behind them—that has everyone so jazzed, and that put the trials of a disgusting lockout squarely in the rear-view mirror.
An excellent matchup would have been enough to bring joy to die-hard basketball fans, but this was the matchup the NBA needed to claim victory over its own misdeeds. Professional athletes and the league that employs them betrayed the trust of the consumer last summer, and to erase that image, great basketball alone just wouldn't do.
It had to be Durant and James, "good" and "evil" (if you buy into that kind of thing), the Thunder and the Heat. It was the only way this mess would rightfully end, and though the very thought of BRI had long disappeared from the minds and tongues of the sporting public, games this riveting scrub the slate clean.
Welcome back, all. The game hasn't changed, but changed or not, you're always welcome here.
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