Stars align for NBA's Super Sunday

ByDave McMenamin ESPN logo
Sunday, June 19, 2016

OAKLAND, Calif. -- LeBron James' former marketing slogan for Nike, "We are all witnesses," will take on new meaning for Sunday's Game 7 of the NBA Finals between his Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors (8 p.m. ET, ABC/WatchESPN).

The Finals, already the second-most watched series in NBA championship history on ABC with an average of 18.5 million viewers through the first six games, is sure to crescendo with one of the most viewed games in the history of the sport.

With the battle between NBA superstars LeBron James and Stephen Curry playing out in a winner-take-all Game 7 played out on a Sunday night, this may be as close to the NBA ever gets to replicating the NFL's Super Bowl.

"Yeah, I mean, it is [like the Super Bowl]," James said Saturday when asked about the parallel to the NFL's championship game. "I think it is for the whole world that loves the game of basketball, that's had a close eye throughout the whole postseason and throughout The Finals. It's also Father's Day as well. I think that's very important to all the fathers out there in the world to get an opportunity to not only be with their loved ones and kids and things of that nature, but also to be able to watch the game.

"So, I mean, it's pretty cool. Like you said, to put it into Super Bowl Sunday, it's like one game. It's one game, and you look forward to it. I'm happy I'm able to be blessed just to be a part of it."

Despite the first six games all being decided by double digits, the popularity of the series has grown as it's gone on, with Game 6 drawing an average of 20.7 million viewers and peaking at 25.2 million viewers.

While it is still a far cry from February's Super Bowl between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers, which averaged 111.9 million viewers, according to CNN, the Cavs and Warriors have drawn numbers the past two Finals better than any ones since Michael Jordan was winning championships with the Chicago Bulls.

The only other Finals that came down to Game 7 in the past 30 years -- the Miami Heat vs. San Antonio Spurs in 2013; Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics in 2010; Spurs vs. Detroit Pistons in 2005; Houston Rockets vs. New York Knicks in 1994; Lakers vs. Pistons in 1988 -- all finished on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday.

Cavs coach Tyronn Lue, who will be coaching in just his 62nd game since being promoted to head coach at midseason, is embracing the prime spotlight.

"We know it's a big stage, but our guys are ready and up for the challenge," Lue said. "This is the position you want to be in. We went through the season of playing all the preseason games. We played all the regular season games and now you're in the final game of the season. No more games left. So I think our guys understand that and they're ready for this moment."

There was a mixed reaction from the Warriors' side of things. For a team that already drew a 23.2 rating on the CSN Bay Area network for its record-setting 73rd win during the regular season -- which the network says is the largest number any NBA regular season telecast has drawn on a regional sports network -- perhaps focusing on who is watching is less important than what is happening.

"You really don't try to think about that stuff," said Draymond Green. "There's enough that goes into any game, anyway. There's enough pressure that goes into any game, anyway. To add all that extra pressure on you, for what? It doesn't do anything. Whenever you step on the floor, you're going to be your best anyway. So, the fact that it's more people maybe watching or any of that doesn't really matter. You want to win anytime you step on the floor. Regardless if nobody is watching, you want to win. So, that don't matter to us. Maybe it matters to someone else, but not us."

It could matter when the opt-out date for the league's current collective bargaining agreement comes up on December 15, however. While the NBA is already locked into a long-term television with ESPN/ABC and Turner Sports, record-setting ratings are a major indicator of the health of the game -- an indicator the players could use in their negotiations to change how the wealth the game generates is distributed.

"I think the BRI is going up because of the whole thing," said Andre Iguodala, referring to basketball-related income, which the current CBA splits with anywhere from 49-51 percent of that total going into player salaries on a season-by-season basis. "You could say it's good for business."

Business is booming and the NBA will be center stage with its own version of Super Sunday, viewed by millions in the United States and millions more around the globe.

"First of all, you give a lot of credit to all the guys that have laid the path, and then David Stern also had a vision and he's given it all to Adam Silver," James said. "[Silver also] had his visions to continue to help grow our game. I'm happy to say that I had some part in the history of the game to say, 'Hey, look, I was there when this happened,' or the game went to a couple more countries. Once social media started, it continued to build our game up more. I was a part of that timetable.

"So it's an honor to be a part of a sport and be part of a beautiful game that you know that not only here in America, but people all over the world can watch and be proud about it."

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