NBA Playoff Ratings Off to Hot Start

Jayson Tatum
Jayson Tatum / Maddie Meyer/GettyImages

The opening weekend of the 2022 NBA playoffs was quite entertaining for basketball fans, and now we have numbers to suggest everyone felt that way. Austin Karp of the Sports Business Journal presented ratings from the first games of the first round on Tuesday and the league has to be ecstatic about the returns.

Karp later updated to make the numbers pop even more.

The official NBA PR tweet had the average at slightly above 4.03 million, clocking in at 4.05 million.

The best viewership for opening weekend in a decade is pretty good, right?

What makes these numbers especially impressive is the relative lack of big rating-drivers in the playoffs this year. LeBron James, king of ratings, and the Los Angeles Lakers are on vacation already. New York's most popular team, the Knicks, are watching from their couches too. Of the four teams in the two biggest ratings markets in the country, three aren't in the playoffs.

Of course, the "relative" aspect is important. It's not like the postseason this year is filled with a bunch of no-names the average fan doesn't know or care about. The Stephen Curry Warriors are back in full force and playing like it's 2015 again, even if they're in a somewhat non-competitive matchup. The Celtics and Nets bring immense star power to the table with the added bonus of being the most competitive first-round series, and Game 1 coming down to the final possession certainly helped matters. The Bucks and Suns are both primed for a repeat run after their introduction to the casual viewing population in last year's Finals. Philly, Miami, and Chicago's passionate fanbases are all involved.

These numbers are pretty huge for the NBA after the last few years have featured a dramatic slide in the ratings department, mostly due to COVID. Momentum will be difficult to keep up over the next week because most of the first-round series will be effectively over by Game 3 or 4 at the latest. The Boston-Brooklyn series will have to do some heavy lifting when that happens, although the drama of Game 1 suggests that won't be an issue.

But simply consider that the NBA posted their best marks in a decade without the man who dominated that entire span in LeBron. Or his biggest individual rival in Kawhi Leonard. Or without the rabid Los Angeles fanbase. It's a small step, and how the ratings shake out when there are fewer teams and fewer big names will be a better indicator of progress being made.

But there's reason for optimism, and that's been in short supply when it comes to NBA ratings in recent history. It's all the league can ask for.