Lakers, Celtics in NBA Finals Means a Victory for TV Ratings

Photographer: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant helps the Los Angeles Lakers become one of the most successful franchises in NBA history. Close

Kobe Bryant helps the Los Angeles Lakers become one of the most successful franchises in NBA history.

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Photographer: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant helps the Los Angeles Lakers become one of the most successful franchises in NBA history.

With 32 of a possible 63 titles between them, the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics are the most successful franchises in National Basketball Association history. They’re also a boon to television ratings.

When the Lakers and Celtics meet for another championship in this year’s NBA Finals starting in two days, Walt Disney Co.’s ABC may emerge a winner.

“This is best matchup ABC could have possibly hoped for,” Brad Adgate, research director at Horizon Media, a New York- based advertising company, said in a telephone interview. “It’s a classic rivalry -- cross-country, major markets and two teams loaded with history.”

Jeff Lindsey, a spokesman for ABC, didn’t immediately return an e-mail last night seeking comment.

The Lakers won their 15th NBA championship last season, while the Celtics won their 17th title two years ago.

Boston’s six-game win over the Lakers after the 2007-08 season yielded the highest television ratings for the NBA Finals in the past five years. It was the most recent championship- round meeting in one of sports’ most celebrated rivalries, which featured Magic Johnson and Larry Bird in the 1980s.

The 1987 championship series, the third showdown in four years between Johnson’s Lakers and Bird’s Celtics, was watched in 16.7 percent of U.S. homes, according to Nielsen Media Research. It was the highest-rated NBA finals that didn’t include Michael Jordan since Nielsen began keeping records in 1974.

“These teams have national followings and leaguewide followings,” said Phil de Picciotto, president of Athletes & Personalities at the Los Angeles-based marketing and representation firm Octagon. “Anybody who’s a basketball fan appreciates what the Lakers and Celtics stand for.”

‘Made a Living’

Former CBS Sports president Neal Pilson, who used to sit alongside Boston President Red Auerbach during the NBA Finals, said his network “made a living” on the Celtics and Lakers. Pilson expects more ratings success this season.

“There’s every indicator from size of markets, to quality of the matchup, to the athletes themselves, to the history and tradition,” said Pilson, president of Pilson Communications, Inc., in Chappaqua, New York. “This definitely is a great matchup for the NBA and the networks.”

The teams met in the NBA Finals six times in the 1960s, featuring Hall of Famers such as Bill Russell and Bob Cousy for Boston and Jerry West and Elgin Baylor for Los Angeles. Wilt Chamberlain played for the Lakers in the 1969 Finals.

Kareem in Series

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s career scoring leader with 38,387 points, helped lead the Lakers to NBA Finals victories against the Celtics in 1985 and 1987.

Los Angeles is the second-largest media market in the U.S. behind New York, and Boston is seventh.

The Lakers are led by former Most Valuable Player Kobe Bryant, who has averaged 29.4 points in 16 games this postseason. The Celtics are paced by a quartet of All-Stars in Paul Pierce, Ray Allen, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo.

“Boston and L.A. -- wake up the echoes,” Pilson said in a telephone interview. “This is classic. The only thing that could spoil this matchup right now are blowout games or a four- game sweep. But it seems unlikely.”

The teams split their two regular-season meetings, with each winning by one point on the road.

Los Angeles is a 5 1/2-point favorite for Game 1 of the best-of-seven championship series on June 3 at the Staples Center. Game 2 will also be played in Los Angeles, on June 6, before the series shifts to Boston for the next three games.

Jackson Seeking Revenge

Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who has 10 NBA titles, said the loss to the Celtics two years ago still stings.

During the offseason, after Los Angeles beat the Orlando Magic for the NBA title, Jackson said he ran into Pierce at his daughter’s housing complex in Los Angeles and made it known he wanted a championship rematch.

“I said, ‘Get it back, we want to meet you in the finals,’” Jackson said after beating Phoenix in the Western Conference finals. “So here it is almost a year later. We have this opportunity, both of us, to renew this rivalry.”

Since the Lakers moved to Los Angeles from Minneapolis in 1960, they’ve faced the Celtics 10 times in the NBA Finals. Nine of those championship series were decided in more than five games, with four going to a seventh game.

“You’ve got great star power and great tradition,” said Horizon Media’s Adgate. “The only other thing that ABC could possibly hope for is that the series goes seven games.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Erik Matuszewski in New York at matuszewski@bloomberg.net

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