Can a Heat victory redeem NBA Finals ratings?

OPINION - The NBA needs LeBron to get fans back to their television sets. As usual, all eyes will be on him for Game 6. Let’s hope it’s more eyes than in Game 5...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

The NBA Finals have been exciting and compelling; probably exactly what David Stern and NBA brass were hoping for when the San Antonio Spurs and Miami Heat earned trips to the championship series.

There has been star power, unlikely heroes, strategic chess moves, and plenty of drama. It’s the type of finals that sports fans love.

Unfortunately, it seems many of those sports fans aren’t watching.

Sports Media Watch reported Monday that Sunday’s Game 5 drew an 11.4 overnight rating, which is a four-year low. It was down 10 percent from the two previous year’s Game 5s.

It’s gotta be the…Spurs?

We can purely speculate as to why this is happening, but the first guess would be the Spurs factor. The default narrative about the Spurs is they’re boring, and don’t move the needle on a national scale. Ironically, while Game 5 was a four-year low, it was actually the highest Game 5 involving the Spurs since 1999, when they drew an 11.9 in their Finals game against the New York Knicks.

It’s shocking that the ratings are this low considering how great the product has been. This is also a rare opportunity for the Spurs to shed their boring moniker under a national spotlight against the most glamorous team in the world, and prove that their brand of basketball is fun to watch.

Another rather surprising stat is that less than 30 percent of households in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale area watched Game 5, down 29 and 12 percent respectively from the Heat’s previous two Game 5s. Miami fans certainly don’t have the reputation of being diehard, but less than one out of three Miami residents watching the home team in a critical Game 5 is pretty sad.

LeBron James is not having his best series. He really only went off once, in Game 4, and that game will be remembered more for Dwayne Wade’s heroics than his. He has been bottled up Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green for most of the series, leading to generally passive play.

LeBron has been solid, not spectacular

That’s another reason why viewership may be dipping. Casual fans want to see two things: Stars. And stars performing like stars. James isn’t fulfilling the latter part of the deal.

Over the past three seasons, James play has helped catapult both ratings for both the Heat and NBA as a whole. Last year, according to Forbes, the Heat had a 34 percent spike in television ratings. The Heat drive interest, as evidenced by ABC’s huge dip in ratings in games that didn’t involve Miami.

James needs to go back to being dominant to get casual fans back onboard. And more importantly, if he doesn’t, the Heat will more than likely lose this series, and get blown up this summer. The Heat have been ratings gold for the NBA since ‘The Decision.’ They’re a team full of stars that appeals to the casual fan.

If they start trading stars away, the NBA’s huge draw takes a major hit. Worse still, if James decides to leave the Heat after next season, and go to a smaller market like Cleveland, that hurts NBA viewing overall.

Again, we’re purely speculating on what could have led to the ratings hit. Game 4 actually drew big ratings, so this may be more of an aberration than a trend.

League, LeBron need the same thing

But a series this good really needs to be seen by any and all sports fans. This is the type of series that can turn casual basketball fans into avid ones, which is critical for the NBA.

Like always, there’s pressure on James to perform. His game will be dissected after every errant shot he shoots. Every passive possession is another opportunity for people to take him out of the conversation as one of the best players ever.

Now James has yet another reason to play well. The NBA needs him to get fans back to their television sets.

As usual, all eyes will be on him for Game 6. Let’s hope it’s more eyes than in Game 5.

Follow Stefen Lovelace on Twitter @StefenLovelace