Here’s a news flash. The Los Angeles Lakers will be on television this year. A lot.
I know, I know, I know… no matter how bad the Lakers are, no matter how many games they lost the previous season, their games are always going to be televised. Just like the Yankees or the Red Sox or the Cowboys. The Lakers are one of the most recognizable teams in American professional sports, with one of the biggest fanbases in sports, and they are always going to draw viewers.
But what we’re going to see in the coming NBA season might be a little bit much.
The schedule was released on Monday and with it were all the nationally televised appearances for all 30 NBA teams. Of course, many of these games especially later in the season can be flexed, but it gives a window into how often you’ll see various teams across the national airwaves.
Some of the results aren’t surprising. The Warriors lead the way with 43 total appearances including 6 on ABC, 13 on ESPN, and 12 on TNT. The Rockets are right behind with 40 and the Cavaliers with 39. The Thunder are next with 37 appearances and even that can’t be begrudged as they made the playoffs last season, are adding Paul George, and feature reigning MVP Russell Westbrook coming off the second triple double season in NBA history.
But in fifth place come the Lakers, with 35 total appearances on national television – 12 on NBATV, 11 on TNT, 1 on ABC, and 11 on ESPN. That ranks higher than last year’s Eastern Conference Finalists (Boston – 34) and a team that went 61-21 last year (San Antonio – 32).
It also ranks higher than the 22 other teams that had a better record than the 26-56 Lakers did last season.
Each team's number of national TV games overall and by network. pic.twitter.com/CZ2ZpGWEo7
— Yaya Dubin (@JADubin5) August 14, 2017
The Lakers make more TV appearances than four playoff teams (Atlanta, Indiana, Utah, Toronto – 32) last year combined!
This certainly isn’t a new phenomenon, but it’s one that is growing. Just two years ago, the Lakers were still terrible, and they registered 19 appearances on ABC/ESPN/TNT, which was seventh in the league. Even Charles Barkley has gotten on his own network for showing the Lakers too much, and that was three years ago!
Amazingly, they have almost as many appearances on those networks this season as they did coming off back-to-back titles in 2011. Yes, there are more games on national television now than there was then, but how is that possible?
In 2011 coming off repeat titles, the Lakers had 25 national TV appearances across ABC, ESPN, and TNT.
They have 23 this year.
— Hardwood Paroxysm (@HPbasketball) August 15, 2017
It may just seem like another example of big market bias and another season of way too many Lakers games, but I think we all know the reason why we’re seeing yet another increase this year. Let’s just say that a certain #2 overall pick has a certain overbearing father that has a supreme talent for getting more undeserved attention than should be humanly possible because of his shirtless jedi mind tricks.
Sorry, for some reason I had to take a break and buy a $495 pair of shoes after watching that.
That’s what this is all about. The Lakers are going to be compelling to watch this year whether they are good or whether they are bad. If anything, this year the Lakers have such a healthy case of schadenfreude working against them BECAUSE of the Ball family drama that fans will actually want to tune in to watch them lose games too! And if that’s not enough, ESPN will almost singularly be focused on making sure LeBron suits up for the purple and gold next year.
And here’s the thing – it’s already working. Already this summer, Lonzo and the Lakers had so much hype that they led ESPN to record Summer League ratings. If the Lakers can get over a million viewers for summer league, imagine what kind of viewers they can draw in the regular season. Considering the NBA had to suffer through an anticlimactic two months of postseason games to get to a Finals series we all knew was coming, anything to add some drama from October-April is going to be welcomed by the networks.
In years past, TNT/ESPN could just flex out of all of those unwanted Lakers games once they started playing for ping pong balls instead of playoff spots. This year though, the networks may just want to keep them around so they can put an iso cam on LaVar in the crowd when the Lakers are losing to the Warriors by 40 points.