Warriors-Cavs Finale Is the Most-Watched NBA Game Since Michael Jordan Era

ABC broadcast surpasses 30 million viewers

Though it may not be as impressive as ending Cleveland's 52-year title drought, LeBron James helped the NBA end another streak.

Sunday night's thrilling finish to the 2016 season was the most-watched NBA game this century. The Cleveland Cavaliers 93-89 victory averaged 30.8 million viewers, the first NBA game to cross the 30 million threshold in 18 years.

The game itself had historic implications, too. It was the Cavs' first championship in franchise history, and Cleveland crushed the defending champion Golden State Warriors' dream of capping off a historic season with another championship.

It was also the third-most watched NBA game since 1993, according to ESPN.

From 10:30-10:40 p.m. ET, around the time Kyrie Irving sunk the go-ahead three-pointer with less than a minute left, more than 44.5 million viewers were tuned in. In terms of household ratings, the metric by which sports ads are sold, the game garnered a 15.7 rating, which was also the best since 1998 when Michael Jordan led the Chicago Bulls to their sixth title in eight years.

  • Locally, the game notched the second-highest rating ever for an NBA game, with a 46.3 rating in Cleveland and a 39.4 rating in San Francisco.
  • Sunday's game surpassed the previous two Game 7s, including the 28.2 million that saw the Los Angeles Lakers outlast their rival Boston Celtics in 2010, which was previously ABC's high mark for an NBA game.
  • Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals, which also featured LeBron James when he was a member of the Miami Heat drew 26.3 million, as the Heat defeated the San Antonio Spurs.

The strong ratings for the 2016 NBA Finals capped a healthy ad market for the entire playoffs. Kantar Media reports an estimated $570 million was spent on advertising for the playoffs (April 16-May 30) leading up to the NBA Finals.

This year's Warriors-Cavs Finals rematch has been a boon for ABC. The network had its two most-watched series since it began airing NBA games in the 2002-03 season. This year's version looked like it was going to be a huge disappointment after the Warriors took a commanding 3-1 series lead and many of the games were noncompetitive, including back-to-back 30-point margins of victory.

But with the series extending to a seventh game, ABC topped an average of 20 million viewers for the series (20.16 million), narrowly beating last year's six-game series (19.94 million).