The NBA finals are here, or will be in a week. (To borrow from my late esteemed colleague Jesse Outlar: “If the NBA ran World War II, Germany and Japan would still be in the running.”) On its face, this is an intriguing matchup — Golden State against Cleveland, best team against best player. I’d be surprised if the Cavaliers win, but should we be surprised by anything LeBron James does?
Of interest to me, if to no one else, is how Atlanta will respond. The Hawks had a great regular season but were summarily dispatched from the Eastern Conference finals. As we know, the Hawks kept setting records for local TV viewership; as we also know, it wasn’t so long ago that almost nobody in our city gave two figs about our NBA team.
With the Hawks having won two playoff rounds for the first time in their Atlanta history, civic interest in the NBA should be running high. But Atlanta, as we can never forget, isn’t like other places. Just because people came to care about the Hawks doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll care anything about the Cavs against the Warriors. That said …
It has been instructive that, whenever esteemed colleague Tim Tucker does his post-finals breakdown of TV ratings, Atlanta scores high. Given that the Hawks’ attendance, at least before January 2015, was soft (to put it mildly), that first sounded incongruous. The more you thought about it, the more it made sense: Atlanta as a market likes watching NBA games; it just didn’t like watching the Hawks.
But now this not-bad NBA market has a team worth following, and the guess here is that we as a metro area will pay greater attention to Cavs-Warriors than to any World Series of recent vintage. Here, though, I offer this caveat: I’m terrible at estimating crowds.