When the NBA ascertained in March that the Los Angeles Lakers would not be in this season’s playoffs, some alarm bells must have gone off in the organisation’s commercial department.
Without the LA Lakers, the NBA would be missing its main attraction in LeBron James for the business end of the season.
James’ teams had advanced to the last eight NBA finals in a row. This year saw an end to that run with the superstar’s absence already deemed to have had a negative impact on viewership figures around the world.
ESPN’s Basketball analyst, Jalen Rose, echoed what many of us thought when he said: “There is a void… He is a notable, iconic, philanthropic leader. To not have him in these games, it’s going to affect some people’s interest who are casual fans.”
James, the 34-year-old Ohio native, has been in the NBA since 2003, having two spells at Cleveland Cavaliers with four years at Miami Heat sandwiched in between.
Last year, James made the decision to move to the west coast for what are to be the twilight years of his career. His transfer to the LA Lakers was expected to inspire at least a playoff appearance for his new team but no such luck.
The Lakers’ coach, Luke Walton, has since parted ways with the franchise and one of Lebron’s previous coaches Tyronn Lue is rumoured to be a possible replacement for Walton.
This season is the first since 2005 that LeBron James will not be involved in the playoffs. The TV broadcasters are concerned with his absence, as discussed by Reggie Miller, an analyst at TNT, when speaking with thewrap.com. However, Miller also alluded to the other existing storyline which they are hoping will attract the attention of many NBA fans around the globe – the Golden State Warriors’ pursuit of a ‘three-peat’ and what would be four NBA titles in the last five years.
“Not having him in the playoffs? Obviously, that is going to hurt.”
“What’s fun now is seeing who wants to take the mantle LeBron has created,” fellow TNT analyst Chris Webber added. “The Playoffs overall are going to be so exciting and competitive that the casual fan will have to come [and watch] because the avid fan is going to be telling him or her, ‘Look, this is a great series.’”
TNT’s Reggie Miller was opting for the “if one door closes, another one opens” train of thought, saying it can’t all be bad news about LeBron being missing.
“Maybe this is a chance for some of these fringe stars — guys who think they want to be superstars — maybe this is a chance for them to grab a little bit of that spotlight,” Miller said.
As reported in Forbes, the Professor of Sport Management at Syracuse University, Rick Burton, gave his two cents on just how influential a star LeBron James is and the blow it is for the NBA not to have him still involved at this postseason stage.
“Last year’s Cleveland team wasn’t very good but LeBron alone got that team to the Finals, and I think people know that when he puts a team on his back, that they’re going to see some amazing basketball.
“I think the more interesting thing is when he doesn’t have a great team and you kind of go as a fan, ‘What’s he going to pull out of his hat this time to keep these guys in it?'”
“LeBron is the league’s most dynamic, most relevant player,” Burton added. “He’s the globally recognised face of the NBA. I think if you were to look over the last 5-7 years, the two most dominant names have been LeBron and Steph Curry.”
Early figures have shown a drop of 18% in viewership figures in the early rounds of the playoffs. This has been almost solely attributed to LeBron James’ absence.
Nonetheless, Daniel J. Kustelski CEO & Co-founder Chalkline Sports emphasised that from a betting perspective the slowdown of interest is not evident.
He stated that from June to March in New Jersey, Basketball gaining the lion’s share of the handle at 30%, with American Football taking 27%.
Basketball Handle increased 16% from January to March 2019 over the same time period in 2018. And 2018 was a record year for basketball Handle in Nevada.
The increase in mobile and live-in-play wagering in Nevada and New Jersey are factors that have kept the betting interest peaked during this past NBA regular season. The numbers will surely tell us another story when the come out.
One thing is clear, superstars are box office in every sport. Think of Tiger Woods, Lionel Messi, and Conor McGregor as just some prime examples.
With LeBron at 34, the NBA needs to prepare for the day he hangs up his boots for good.