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The National Basketball Association’s full embrace of social justice has apparently earned a catastrophic ratings reward.
The Los Angles Lakers and Miami Heat faced off in Game 1 of the 2020 NBA Finals on Wednesday but it seems even NBA great LeBron James could not help the dismal ratings with the lowest audience number recorded since 1994.
After months of delays of the new season due to the coronavirus pandemic, major sports leagues began to get back to playing while observing safety protocols. But the start of the season coincided with major unrest in the nation as protests and violent riots broke out in many cities following the death of George Floyd in May.
Sports teams, players and officials began to use the return to play as a platform for activism, speaking out about social justice issues and focusing on political topics. NBA stars like James took things to another level in August when they refused to take the court for playoff games following a police shooting in Kenosha, Wisconsin which set off another wave of demonstrations.
After boycotting the games, NBA players negotiated a deal in which the organization pledged to form a social justice coalition and to allow some stadiums to be turned into polling places in November. James, a 16-time NBA All Star, was among the very vocal players advocating social justice changes.
Lower ratings accompanied the first round of the NBA playoff games and Wednesday’s Game 1 of the NBA Finals proved to be even more grim. ABC saw only 7.41 million viewers tune in for the opening game of the series between the Lakers and Miami Heat.
According to The Hollywood Reporter:
The game, which took place about four months later than the usual start date for the NBA Finals, was down by about 45 percent in total viewers vs. the U.S. audience for last year’s finals opener between the Golden State Warriors and Toronto Raptors. The two conference finals series that wrapped up last week were down a collective 35 percent year to year. The NHL’s Stanley Cup Final series, also delayed by several months, was down by more than 60 percent for NBC Sports. Major League Baseball has also struggled during its shortened season.
A series-deciding NBA playoff game last week not only did not deliver in ratings, but it also paled in comparison to a regular episode of Fox News Channel’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”
“Despite 24-hour hype, the LeBron James-led Lakers-Nuggets Conference Finals Game was TKO’ed by Tucker Carlson,” Outkick reported. “The crucial, series-changing Game 4 drew 4.6 million, while a random Thursday episode of Tucker Carlson Tonight brought in 4.74 million.
Tucker Carlson ratings dunk hyped-up ‘crucial’ LeBron-led NBA playoff game https://t.co/anvbqg4aNX
— Conservative News (@BIZPACReview) September 27, 2020
In early September, President Trump warned that the “highly political” stands would drive away fans.
“People are tired of watching the highly political @NBA. Basketball ratings are WAY down, and they won’t be coming back. I hope football and baseball are watching and learning because the same thing will be happening to them,” he tweeted.
People are tired of watching the highly political @NBA. Basketball ratings are WAY down, and they won’t be coming back. I hope football and baseball are watching and learning because the same thing will be happening to them. Stand tall for our Country and our Flag!!!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 1, 2020
A Harris poll at the time seemed to back his words as it found that 39% of sports fans said they are watching fewer games, Forbes reported in September. The survey found that 38% felt they watched less because the “league has become too political,” while 19% cited the NBA’s association with China.