There is no denying that Lebron James and the Los Angeles Lakers had an extremely disappointing season.
After luring King James over to La-La Land with a 4-year $154 million deal, the Lakers had their sights set on the playoffs and more. They signed a flurry of one-year veteran free agents, like Rajon Rondo, Michael Beasley, Lance Stephenson and Javale McGee, in the hopes of giving a young Los Angeles squad some much-needed leadership. Alongside youngsters like Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram, the future finally seemed bright in L.A.
However, the season did not plan out like Lebron and the Lakers had wanted to at all. Instead, the team suffered from a rash of injuries (one of which was James’ first significant one of his career), to Ball, Rondo, Beasley and Ingram. They also had swirling trade rumors surrounding most of the young players in a potential trade for superstar Anthony Davis. That ugly mess that transpired ruined the youngsters’ confidence and really shone a bad light onto Lebron as a rudderless leader. In the end, the Lakers didn’t nab Davis, Lebron just stopped playing defense, and in a flash, the Lakers’ season was done.
Yet, even in a season of misery and failure for Lebron, there is no doubt that he is still the most popular player on the planet. He was still able to manage a great offensive year, averaging 27.4 points, 8.5 rebounds and 8.3 assists in his 16th season. These are just your typical outstanding Lebron numbers and would be considered amazing if anyone else put those stats up. They are also enough to back-up to hype that came into this year with Lebron switching teams again, this time to the biggest brand in the NBA.
So it is no shock that the NBA Playoffs numbers are down a good 30 percent to begin the first round. Lebron’s presence in the postseason has been a staple in the minds of basketball fans since 2006. Regardless of which team James missed the playoffs with, it would’ve been a big deal. But considering it’s also the Lakers, who haven’t made the playoffs in six years, the decline in that significant market is real.
Even outside of L.A. the numbers are still down. This is because of how big Lebron’s brand has become over the years. In modern NBA fandom, a lot of fans end up gravitating to a player instead of a team. I am guilty of this myself, as I am a New York Knicks fan who grew up watching terrible Knicks teams in the 2000s. Therefore, I naturally grew to be a fan of the his and his other-worldly play. He was unlike any basketball player I had ever seen, and his playing style demanded attention while dominating the screen. He was by far the best player in the league and proved it by making eight-straight NBA Finals appearances.
Yet, even though Lebron may not be the best overall player anymore, he is still the biggest star and the most recognizable face in the league. While players like Giannis Antetokounmpo, James Harden, Kevin Durant and Steph Curry all have legitimate claims as the top gun, James still has to be dethroned as king of the NBA.
What may also not be helping the first round ratings for this year’s playoffs is the perceived lack of competition for the title. Going into this season, almost everyone was in agreement that the Golden State Warriors would will their third-straight championship. For the past three years now, there has been very little variation in the playoffs, which has led to a decline in excitement around it. For the last two years, it was Lebron and the Cleveland Cavaliers against the ultra-talented Warriors. The only question was if the Cavs could make it a series with them, which they couldn’t both times.
Now, the East is wide-open but the West seems to be shut. The only team that seems capable at beating the Warriors is the Houston Rockets, and they don’t have home-court in the second-round. Last year’s finals was one of the lowest-rated off all-time, which shows that NBA fans have had it with Durant and the tainted Warriors dynasty. The only real hope for this year is that whichever team wins the East pulls off the upset of the century. I mean, the Warriors did blow a 3-1 and a 31-point lead, so anything is possible.
While there are several factors that have determined why the playoff numbers are down, Lebron not playing is certainly a main contributor. Avid basketball fans will watch the playoffs no matter who’s playing–but to a casual fan, him not being there may be a deciding factor. Without James and his general wizardry on the court, the postseason just feels different without him.
Lebron’s playoff non-appearance is like having a prime Kobe Bryant or Michael Jordan not getting in, which has happened before. When the most popular player in the NBA is out, so are most casual basketball fans. Factor in Golden State’s dominance over the entire league, and you have a recipe for a playoffs rating disaster. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the playoffs have suffered in the wake of Lebron’s absence.