The Los Angeles Lakers last night became champions of the virus-altered 2019-2020 basketball season; the NBA has purged itself of the portion of its audience it has accused of “systemic racism;” and the communist government is again allowing its games to be broadcast in China.
So life is good for the Lakers and its superstar LeBron James, the face of the league. He got everything he wanted.
James took a lot of criticism this year for his outspokenness on racial justice issues, following the deaths of blacks Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Jacob Blake in situations he believes were maliciously botched by police. He – and most of his NBA colleagues, including Commissioner Adam Silver – blamed a law enforcement system and its officers they believe are hopelessly racist, regardless of what the facts behind high-profile cases have revealed. So they painted “Black Lives Matter” on their courts and put similar social justice messages on their jerseys for the rest of the season, after returning from their COVID-19 break.
James’s most recent commentary, via social media, was to analogize Mike Pence to a turd – because of the famous fly that sat on the vice president’s head during last week’s debate.
Many NBA fans have been turned off by all the politicization, and therefore turned off their TVs following an abbreviated season that was protectively “bubbled” in Orlando without live fans in attendance, thanks to COVID. It’s been reflected in the league’s television ratings, which have plummeted to an all-time low.
The number for last night’s Game-6 conclusion to the finals isn’t available yet, but it is likely to improve minimally upon the series’ previous woeful showings. Game 1 drew 7.41 million viewers; Game 2 – 6.61 million; Game 3 – 5.94 million; Game 4: 7.54 million; and Game 5 took in 5.7 million viewers.
Put in perspective, 18.2 million viewers watched Game 5 of the 2019 finals between the Golden State Warriors and the Toronto Raptors.
And all-time talent James used to bring the eyeballs. He is fascinating to watch as an athlete. He plays for one of the league’s marquee franchises, which just tied the Boston Celtics for most championships in their history. He won his fourth title, approaching Michael Jordan’s six, with whom James is compared most of the time as the NBA’s best player ever.
But James’s politicization made fans not care any more, in a season when they were deprived for months from any sports at all. The viewer starvation couldn’t overcome the nausea they felt when the Marxist motto “Black Lives Matter” and “systemic racism” were thrown in their face every time ESPN or TNT broadcast a game.
(Speaking of ESPN, the network is expected to lay off hundreds of employees and cut the pay of others, in the third round of cutbacks since 2015. The network, tightly connected to the NBA, has suffered massive subscriber losses due to a public increasing quitting cable by “cord-cutting” – but many also partially blame ESPN’s turn toward support for “woke” social justice causes.)
The New York Post reported last week that Adam Silver is puzzled by the poor ratings, “with LeBron James chasing his fourth title at age 35.” But Silver also seemed to acknowledge the political fatigue the league has inflicted on viewers, telling ESPN in an interview that the league would scale back the social justice activism.
“My sense is there will be somewhat of a return to normalcy, that those messages will largely be left to be delivered off the floor,” he said, and suggested also in the interview some that there have been complaints: “I understand those people who are saying ‘I’m on your side, but I want to watch a basketball game.’”
While Silver may be starting to understand the mood in the U.S., he is also re-igniting the league’s partnership with China after the communist government imposed a one-year ban on broadcasting NBA games, after Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey stuck up for oppressed Hong Kong in a tweet. State-owned CCTV resumed airing beginning with Game 5 last week, after Silver said the league lost $300 million in revenues due to several Chinese companies that severed ties with the NBA. The relationship is apparently restored thanks to several “goodwill” gestures toward China during the COVID pandemic.
James is certainly happy about that too, considering his efforts to expand his brand in China and his past admonition of Morey after his tweet. “I believe he was either misinformed or not really educated on the situation, and if he was, then so be it,” James said at the time.
So the victorious James remains immersed in his bias against the “racist” United States and in his embrace of communism, a hypocrisy which National Legal and Policy Center has made a focus of with its Freedom4China.com project.
But at least he now has another trophy and returning fans in China.