Jerry West: NBA 'Is Gonna Overtake All the Other Sports'

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured ColumnistFebruary 18, 2018

Jerry West sits on the bench before an NBA basketball game between the Los Angeles Clippers and the Phoenix Suns Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong)
Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

Hall of Famer Jerry West told those in attendance at Sunday's Legends Brunch in Los Angeles that the NBA is poised for tremendous growth:

"When I came to the city of Los Angeles, we were nobody. Last page of two newspapers. Had no writers, no coverage at all. And to see the way this game has changed and grown, and to see the strides that have been made for people who truly were able to contribute a different way is truly remarkable. 

"I want to say this. I don't like to say things that are controversial at all. But this game is gonna overtake all the other sports." 

The NBA has been lagging behind the NFL for favorite status in the United States over the past few years, but recent trends suggest the gap may be closing. 

The NFL's television ratings were down 9.7 percent during the 2017 regular season, according to ESPN.com's Darren Rovell, meaning 14.9 million people on average tuned in to each game. 

That said, Rovell noted, "Nielsen data shows that the 20 of the 30 highest-rated shows on television in 2017 were football games."

The NBA, meanwhile, watched ratings for last season's Finals between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors soar to the highest mark (20.4 million viewers on average) the league had seen since 1998, per Variety's Daniel Holloway

More recently, Nielsen announced nationally televised NBA broadcasts on ESPN and TNT were averaging 2 million viewers per game this season, which represents an increase of 15 percent from a year ago (h/t Anthony Crupi of AdAge). 

As those figures indicate, audiences for the average nationally televised NBA game still fall well below those tuned in to NFL contests, largely because the market is flooded with hoops while the NFL remains rather scarce with 256 total regular-season clashes. 

Still, several legends, including West and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, have maintained the league will surpass the NFL in popularity eventually and not just because of the quality of the product. 

"The NBA has a chance to seize this moment and boldly lead by promoting the values and freedoms of the U.S. Constitution," Abdul-Jabbar wrote for the Guardian. "To be not just sports heroes, but also social heroes who reflect the kind of engaged Americans who won't tolerate anyone stepping on our values, just for the price of a ticket, a hot dog and a beer."

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