The Western Conference final between Oklahoma City and San Antonio (game 1, Sunday, 8:30 p.m. ET, TNT) should provide a good barometer for the growth of the NBA. This is a highly regional match-up, although it’s not even close on the passion meter as Texas-Oklahoma in college football.
San Antonio is the nation’s 36th largest market, while Oklahoma City is 44th. San Antonio has the Alamo and a great River Walk. Not sure what Oklahoma City has, but from listening to a Bill Simmons podcast with SNL’s Bill Hader, an OK City native, it doesn’t sound like much.
As far as star power, San Antonio, with four NBA titles, continues to mysteriously fly under the radar. Tim Duncan easily is the most under hyped superstar in the history of basketball. It seems the only time he and the Spurs get on national TV is if they are playing Kobe or Jeremy Lin.
In fact, when it comes to star power, the biggest in this series will be Kevin Durant. We love the latest big thing, and there will be interest to see if he, Russell Westbrook and the Thunder can take it to the next level.
The NFL has shown it is immune from the small market factor with recent Super Bowls featuring Indianapolis-New Orleans and Green Bay-Pittsburgh. We’ll watch regardless of who is out on the field.
It’s still different for other sports. Star power and market size drive the ratings. You can bet ESPN, and the NBA for that matter, breathed a big sigh of relief when LeBron, Dwyane and Miami prevailed in their series. Nothing against Indiana, but the no-name Pacers would have been a ratings killer in the East finals.
So will you watch Oklahoma City-San Antonio? Basketball fans will, for sure. But the real ratings boost comes with casual, even non-fans tuning in.
TNT will hype this series to the max. Just the same, you know they would have preferred to see Kobe and the Lakers still on the floor.