NBA commissioner Adam Silver has plenty to smile about nowadays. While the ratings for other professional sports are slumping, interest in and viewership of National Basketball Association action is on the rise.
According to TNT, their live game telecasts averaged 1.7 million viewers this year, the network’s most-watched NBA regular season coverage since 2013-14. The 1.7 million viewers represent a 13% increase compared to the 2016-17 campaign. In addition, TNT garnered double-digit growth across several key demographics, including people between the ages of 18-34 (+14%) and 18-49 (+15%).
The league’s other TV partners reported similarly impressive numbers. The NBA on ABC averaged 3.8 million viewers across 17 games during the 2017-18 regular season, up 17% from last year, according to Nielsen.
Encouragingly for Commissioner Silver and rest of the folks in the league office, the increased interest is not due merely to intense fourth quarters. Part of the reason the NBA is on the rise and positioned well for future growth is that a cadre of young, rising stars have been able to showcase their skills. As evidenced over the entire regular season and throughout the first round, the next generation of NBA stats is serving notice sooner than expected.
Meanwhile, Mitchell’s primary competition for the Rookie of the Year award, Ben Simmons, has been similarly spectacular for the upstart Sixers. Simmons pushed Philadelphia past Miami in round one. In Game 4 vs. Miami, he became the first rookie since Magic Johnson in 1980 to record a triple-double in the playoffs. For the series, Simmons averaged 18.2 points, 10.6 rebounds and 9.0 assists. During his first postseason as a pro, Magic averaged 18.3 points, 10.5 rebounds and 9.4 assists
Per ESPN Micah Adams, the last time the two top vote-getters for the Rookie of the Year award each won a playoff series was the incomparable pairing of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson in 1980. The league’s popularity rocketed upwards in the 1980’s, and the combo of Magic and Bird played pivotal roles in that progress.
Simmons’ teammate, Joel Embiid, who was sidelined by a facial fracture, returned to action halfway through the Miami series and immediately made his presence felt. He has posted a double-double in three straight games and tallied 31 points, 13 rebounds and five assists vs. the Celtics on Monday night.
Although the Bucks were eliminated in the first round by Boston, Milwaukee’s future MVP, Giannis Antetokounmpo, was incredibly impressive, as expected. Antetokounmpo averaged 25.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 6.3 assists vs. the Celtics. He’s just the seventh player in league history to ever average at least 25 points, nine boards and six assists in the postseason (minimum seven games played).
That Celtics squad, playing without Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, features two rising stars of their own. Jayson Tatum stepped up in the series-deciding win over the Bucks when he became the first rookie in over 50 years to tally at least 20 points, six rebounds and five assists in a Game 7. Then, in Game 1 vs. the Sixers on Monday, Tatum became the first Celtics rookie since Larry Bird to score at least 28 points in the playoffs. Before getting injured in Game 7 vs. Milwaukee, Jaylen Brown averaged 20.5 points and 5.3 boards over the first six games of the series.
James Harden and Chris Paul garner most of the acclaim for the Houston Rockets success, but the contributions of Clint Capela should not be discounted. Capela is averaging a league-leading 13.8 rebounds per game during the postseason, to go along with 15.8 points on 64.6% shooting, which is the highest field goal percentage among all qualified postseason players.
What do all the names mentioned above have in common? Mitchell, Simmons, Embiid, Antetokounmpo, Tatum, Brown and Capela are all under 25 years of age.
And this list doesn’t include Anthony Davis, who just turned 25 in March.
The NBA’s ratings are rising, and it’s likely safe to assume they will continue to climb.