ESPN announced early Wednesday that TV ratings for Game 1 of the 2011 NBA Finals between the Miami Heat and Dallas Mavericks were up 3 percent over the 2010 championship series. Game 1 of the 2010 Finals featuring the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics did a 10.4 overnight rating, meaning that 10.4 percent of all U.S. households with a television were tuned into the game on average. That would estimate the 2011 Game 1 ratings at 10.7, which should be the highest figure since 2001, when Allen Iverson led the Philadelphia 76ers to a huge Game 1 upset over the Lakers.
Darren Rovell of CNBC immediately dismissed the ratings boost as "disappointing," and suggested that as the series wore on, viewers interested only in hating the Heat would turn away if Miami takes control. But that wasn't at all the case in the Heat's Eastern Conference Finals victory over the Chicago Bulls; the clinching Game 5 of that series, with the Heat up 3-1 going in, did a 6.3 rating vs. a 6.2 for Game 1 of the series. Both plus Game 4 finished among the top four most-watched NBA games in cable television history.
Keep in mind that an increase over Lakers-Celtics is a pretty big deal, considering that Lakers-Celtics is the premier NBA rivalry. Game 1 of the 2009 Finals between the Lakers and Orlando Magic did an 8.9 rating; this year's 10.7 is a huge 20 percent uptick.