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NBA Finals Broadcasts The Highest-Rated In Years


Two years ago, when LeBron James joined the Miami Heat, he famously promised to win multiple championships - not two, not three, not four, not five, not six, not seven, he said. Well, now at least he's got one. Last night, the Heat routed the Oklahoma City Thunder 121 to 106 to win the NBA title. Sportswriter Stefan Fatsis joins us now, as he does most Fridays, today to talk about the NBA and the business of the NBA. Hi, Stefan.


SIEGEL: This was LeBron James' ninth season in the league and his first championship. He's been such a polarizing figure in sports since moving from Cleveland to Miami. How does this change the perception of LeBron James?

FATSIS: Well, you know, some people are never going to forget that made-for-TV defection from his home state, and you don't have to like the way LeBron James can come off a little bit arrogant. He said that he changed from last year, when the Heat lost in the finals, and his performance was criticized then, and it's hard to argue that he didn't change.

LeBron James was absolutely transcendent in these playoffs. He averaged 30 points and 10 rebounds over 23 games. He took over games at critical moments, and he did it in every way possible: power, shooting, passing, finesse. He was just great.

SIEGEL: Viewers seemed to agree. These finals look like they're the highest rated in years.

FATSIS: Yeah, the only thing keeping the numbers down in the finals was that it didn't go longer, only five games. And the series before the finals also did very, very well. The deciding seventh game of the Eastern Conference finals between Miami and Boston drew the biggest audience ever for an NBA game on cable TV.

And after the turmoil of a labor lockout that started the season, the NBA is back in what looks like another glory era - maturing young stars, compelling rivalries like LeBron against Oklahoma's gifted 23-year-old star Kevin Durant. This one could go on for years.

SIEGEL: Stefan, the next big event for basketball fans is the Olympics in London. Twenty years after the original Dream Team, the U.S. is once again sending a set of NBA superstars.

FATSIS: Yeah, they're going for their fifth gold in six Olympics, since pros started playing. But it might be the last time. NBA Commissioner David Stern is talking about making international basketball more like soccer, with a World Cup open to every player and then the Olympics for players 23 years old and younger.

And there are two main reasons for this. One is that NBA owners are frustrated at putting their multi-million-dollar assets at risk almost year-round, in the world championships, the Olympics, qualifying for those events. Having one quadrennial tournament for the superstars would reduce that.

SIEGEL: But the Olympics have actually been a great outlet for marketing the NBA, no?

FATSIS: Yeah, they have been. And here's how Stern put it the other day: I think we got a lot out of the Olympics. And note the past tense. The thinking now is that the NBA would benefit more from a focused basketball-only world cup in which it could negotiate a financial stake with the International Basketball Federation.

The Olympics would be there to market the league's younger players, and it's not like a U-23 team would be anonymous. This year's team, for instance, might include the Thunder's three stars, Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Blake Griffin of the L.A. Clippers, Kyrie Irving of Cleveland. That would be a pretty good team.

SIEGEL: Well, the Olympics aren't until late July. What's there for fans who are suffering basketball withdrawal?

FATSIS: Well, we've got the NBA draft next week, but if you want to see some Olympians in action, try the WNBA, the women's league. Five of the 12 U.S. Olympians are going to be on ESPN tomorrow in a game between the Minnesota Lynx and the Chicago Sky. Minnesota has three of those players, Maya Moore who was a big college star at Connecticut, Seimone Augustus, Lindsay Whalen. Chicago's got Olympians Swin Cash and Sylvia Fowles.

But they're missing the wonderfully named guard Epiphanny Prince. She was leading the WNBA in scoring, but she fractured a foot last weekend, she's out.

SIEGEL: OK, thanks, have a great weekend, Stefan.

FATSIS: Thanks, Robert.

SIEGEL: Stefan Fatsis joins us most Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports. He's also a panelist on Slate.com's sports podcast, Hang Up and Listen. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.