It’s no secret why Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James is the focus of ABC’s promos for the NBA Finals. ABC/ESPN sportscasters and executives are giddy about the ratings impact James will have on their coverage of the finals, which begin at 8 p.m. Thursday in San Antonio.
James has more star appeal than anyone on the Detroit Pistons, who lost to the Cavs in the Eastern Conference finals, and the Spurs, who will face the Cavs in the finals and will be going for their third title in five years and fourth overall.
“I think it will bring in a lot of the casual fans who want to get a view of a guy who obviously has a chance to do something special in his career,” said play-by-play announcers Mike Breen.
“I think in the Piston series he went from great to something special,” analyst Jeff Van Gundy said. “Whether he can do it in the finals, or whether he can do it over time, to me that is the intriguing thing. Can he develop that will of a champion? Can he inspire the rest of his team to do that? I think that will be an intriguing subplot because (Tim) Duncan has already done that with the Spurs.”
In the past three seasons, the finals have given ABC a ratings boost in the normally slow ratings month of June. ESPN vice president Norby Williamson noted ABC has won the ratings battle in 14 of the past 18 finals nights.
Although Van Gundy admits the Cavs are underdogs, he said can take solace in Dwyane Wade’s performance in leading the Miami Heat to an upset of the Dallas Mavericks in last year’s finals.
“Miami had an up-and-down regular season. They had and up-and-down playoffs. They started the Dallas series 0-2, and then Dwyane Wade had four remarkable games in a row. If you’re Cleveland, even though you’re going to be the prohibitive underdog, all you’re going to need is LeBron James to be great in four games, and I believe he can be great in four games, or four or more games. That’s why they have a chance to win.”
Van Gundy has been a tremendous addition to ABC/ESPN’s top broadcast team, which also includes the mediocre Breen and Jackson. ESPN vice president Norby Williamson said he hopes to bring Van Gundy back for that role next season. Van Gundy, the former Houston Rockets coach, sounds like he’s ready to take a break from coaching.
“I’m looking to live in Houston and broadcast next year,” Van Gundy said. “If that opportunity presents itself, that will be wonderful. I would be remiss if there is a contract extention being offered to turn it down because I did that earlier this year (with the Rockets) and it didn’t quite work out like I wanted.”
Pregame coverage, with host Dan Patrick and analysts Jon Barry and Michael Wilbon, will begin at 7:30 each night. Michele Tafoya and Stuart Scott will serve as reporters.
Technical gizmos include SkyCam, with aerial views of the action, and FreezeCam, which has the ability to capture a play and zoom in on a particular angle.
Coverage will include an updated version of the “Hall of Fame” opening segment, which features some of the most memorable players and moments in finals history and “The Finals in Harmony,” a celebration of many of the players, teams and moments from the finals through the voice and performance of Steve Sidwell and the Hollywood Film Chorale.