The Miami-Dallas 2011 NBA Finals shapes up about as well as ABC could have hoped for, short of another rematch of pro hoops ultimate rivals.
When Kobe, Phil Jackson and the two-time defending champion Los Angeles Lakers’ bid for a three-peat was swept away by Dirk Nowitzki and crew, and LeBron, DWade and Chris Bosh put an end to the Boston Celtics’ Big 4 in five, the Mavs-Heat was the matchup of choice.
No disrespect intended here to Chicago Bulls backers and Nielsen DMA No. 3, but the Heat showed that MVP Derrick Rose was not quite ready for pro hoops’ primetime presentation, at least until he gets a little bit more support on the offensive end. Clutch play by Miami’s Big 3 combined with a spate of turnovers and embarrassingly inept possessions doomed the Bulls in the fourth quarters of their four losses. TNT officials can only lament how much higher its record Nielsens would have climbed with the Eastern Conference finals had the Bulls not performed as self-picadors, especially in the Game 5 meltdown.
Out West, two-time league scoring champion Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden and coach Scott Brooks experienced their own growing pains, coughing up what would have been Game 4-series tying win, by only scoring 10 points over the last five minutes of regulation and overtime, as Dirk went off, and JKidd and Jason Terry administered their own levels of torment to their younger opponents.
If championship pedigree is often a matter of progression — think Isiah’s Pistons finally getting past Bird’s Celtics and Jordan’s Bulls finally breaking the rules and topping Detroit’s Bad Boys — there are more dues to be paid by the Bulls and OKC, whose market position No. 45 could prove problematic if the club emerges as a perennial contender.
Instead, basketball fans, ABC/ESPN and David Stern have DMA No. 5 and its group of aging veterans, Dirk, Kidd, Terry and Peja, versus DMA No. 16 and the Heatles, whom many Americans have decided to either love or loathe since pooling their talents in South Beach.
So how much ratings heat can Miami-Dallas bring? The team’s 2006 championship contretemps - only Dirk and Terry remain for Big D, while Wade and Udonis Haslem still represent for the Heat - averaged 12.9 million over six games. Given the quality of the matchup and the record-setting ratings’ performance of the regular and postseason thus far - not to mention the looming labor situation that could make this the last bit of pro ball anyone’s going to see for a while - one would think that fans will be engaged for the ultimate roundball revue. That mark should fall handily — unless, of course, it’s a blowout.
To bring in more casual viewers, though, the Mavs have to take one of two at American Airlines Arena, before returning to American Airlines Center and the home cooking of Mark Cuban, for the third through fifth contests. Should the Finals reach six games, this version of Miami-Dallas could surpass the 14.3 million for Lakers-Orlando in 2009 (five games) and maybe even the 14.9 million for Lakers-Celtics in 2008 (six).
Still, Miami-Dallas is going to fall well short of the 2010 Finals. For the record, last season’s seven-game battle between LA and Boston averaged 18.1 million watchers for ABC, the most since the Kobe-Shaq Lakers topped Allen Iverson, Dikembe Mutombo and Brian Roberts’ Philadelphia 76ers and NBC netted just under 19 million watchers over five contests in 2001. When it comes to hoops and other things, people love LA.
Finals’ Nielsen tallying aside, the outcome of this year’s title tilt will remove either LeBron or Dirk from the roster of the other NBA MVPs never to have won a title: Iverson, Rose, Steve Nash, Charles Barkley and Karl Malone.