The early games in the first round of the NBA playoffs have had a little something for everyone. You've had underdogs winning on the road, close games all around and the return of the Knicks to the playoffs. The result has been record television ratings for TNT and ESPN/ABC.
The reasons for the increase are varied, but there is no doubt that having all five of the largest TV markets in the playoffs for the first time since 1990 has been a factor. Again, thank you to the Knicks, as the Lakers, Bulls, Sixers and Mavericks have been fairly regular participants in the years since then.
The ratings bonanza should mean substantial revenue gains for the television partners, but should only mean additional headaches for the NBA. The jump in playoff viewership follows a rise in regular season TV ratings and will only further complicate the already delicate negotiations with the players union for a new collective bargaining agreement.
The NBA maintains that it is losing some $300 million a year despite rising attendance, merchandise sales and now record TV ratings, and wants a 30 percent cut in players' salaries. The union wants to see the books to verify the claimed losses, something David Stern is strongly (and suspiciously, if you're a player or someone who hopes there is no lockout) resisting.
So, back to the action on the court. The networks have to be hoping that the banged-up Knicks can finally learn how to close out a game now that the series moves to the Garden. With the Lakers and Spurs having tied up their respective series and Miami and the Bulls firmly in control of theirs, the TV execs are still smiling over the ratings yet to come.