"The King" journeyed back to his old castle last night and the third largest-audience in cable history for a regular-season National Basketball Association game witnessed his return to court.
TNT averaged a 4.2 national rating and 7.05 million viewers on Dec. 2 with its coverage of the Miami Heat-Cleveland Cavaliers game.
The much-anticipated contest -- featuring former Cavalier LeBron James returning to Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland for the first time since he made the free-agent decision to take his talents to South Beach and the Heat last July -- now stands as the third most-watched regular season NBA game in cable history.
Heat-Cavs trails only TNT's coverage of the 2010-11 season opener between Miami and the Boston Celtics, which posted up a 4.6 national rating and 7.43 million viewers on Oct. 26, and the Feb. 2, 1996 matchup between Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls against a fresh-out-of-retirement Magic Johnson and the Los Angeles Lakers that netted 7.27 million watchers on average. The 2010-11 campaign marks TNT's covering the pro basketball league.
Locally last night's game, won by the Heat 118-90 behind James' 38 points and eight assists, dunked huge audiences in the participating clubs' markets: a 25.4 in the Miami DMA and a 14.9 in Cleveland, whose fans booed their erstwhile hero every time he touched the ball.
Bolstered by those games, TNT has scored big Nielsen advances through its first 14 NBA telecasts this season: up 38% to a 1.8 U.S. household rating average from a 1.3 at this time last season; ahead 45% among viewers to 2.85 million from 1.97 million; and 41% in households to 2.09 million from 1.49 million.
On the demo side of the court, TNT has rung up a 41% increase among guys 18 to 34 (686,000 vs. 487,000); 46% among males 18 to 49 (1.15 million vs. 789,000); 51% among persons 18 to 34 (983,000 vs. 653,000); and 51% among persons 18 to 49 (1.66 million vs. nearly 1.1 million).
Next up for TNT: a Dec. 9 doubleheader with the Celtics visiting the Comcast-owned Philadelphia 76ers and the Orlando Magic playing the Portland Trail Blazers, the club owned by Charter Communications largest shareholder, Paul Allen, at 8 p.m. (ET) and 10:30 p.m., respectively.