After Miami mashed Oklahoma City to capture the 2012 NBA championship, the lead Heatle LeBron James said "it's about damn time."
But for ABC and ESPN, the coronation of King James with the Heat's five-game win over the Thunder came too soon, as the Alphabet missed out on the potential of higher-rated contests in Game 6 and 7.
Nevertheless, Miami-OKC ranked as ABC's second-best five-game Finals, behind only the 2004 Detroit Pistons-Los Angeles Lakers matchup, which averaged an 11.5 national rating and 17.9 million viewers on average. For its part, the Heat-Thunder, lifted by big numbers in Games 4 and 5, averaged a 10.1 rating and nearly 16.9 million watchers, according to Nielsen data. The 2012 Finals deliveries fell short of the 2011 confrontation that crowned Dirk Nowitzki and the Dallas Mavericks champions of the round ball world over the Heat. That series averaged a 10.2 rating and 17.3 million viewers, 3% more than the just-finished Finals.
All told, Miami-OKC, a highly competitive series until the Heat's 121-105 rout in the fifth game, ranks as the fourth best of the 10 NBA Finals ABC has televised since ESPN reclaimed the rights in 2003. That list is topped on the viewership level by the Lakers' win in 2010 over nemesis the Boston Celtics, which, bolstered by over 28.2 million witnesses -- the most for an NBA game since Michael Jordan famously pushed off against Bryon Russell to defeat the Utah Jazz in Game 6 of the 1998 Finals before 35.9 million on NBC -- during the decisive Game 7 at Staples Center, averaged 18.1 million viewers and a 10.6 rating. As mentioned, the 2004 Detroit-LA series scored an 11.5 rating and 17.9 million viewers over the course of its five games, while the six-game Dallas-Miami battle in 2011 stands third in both categories with its 10.2 and 17.3 million figures, respectively.
Not surprisingly, fans in the participating clubs' home DMAs supported their squads vigorously. Oklahoma City averaged 43.8 rating during the NBA Finals, versus 33.1 for second-ranked Miami. Neighboring Tulsa (26.9) and West Palm Beach (20.1) ranked third and fourth, and Cleveland (17.4), the former professional home to Akron-raised James, who led the Cavaliers for six years before making "the decision" to "take his talents to South Beach" in the summer of 2010, was fifth.
Rounding out the top 10: Memphis (15.9); 7.New Orleans (14.4); 8.Atlanta (14.2); 9.Chicago (14.1) and 10.San Antonio (14.0).
With the first ‘chip' of the Jamesian reign, the question now is whether the Heat haters will turn out in force to watch subsequent pursuits of what LeBron infamously declared would be "not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven..." titles Miami, along with his Big 3 buddies Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh, would lord over. Given the matchup with the Thunder's Kevin Durant, who has won the league's last three scoring titles, the NBA and ABC overcame Oklahoma City's 44th rank among Nielsen DMAs (Dallas is fifth) to finish with a strong ratings performance.
Would a rematch -- oddsmakers make the teams the favorites to meet again in 2013 -- invite increased viewership? Or will the many who had tuned in, hoping to see James flame out in The Finals as he did versus the Mavericks in 2011, stay away? Of course, sustained greatness can be a powerful draw --- think the ratings magnet that was Jordan's Bulls. Time will tell.