LeBron James Demands 'Respect,' But His Sport Tanked While Others Thrived

A little more than a week ago, LeBron James won his fourth NBA title in his 10th Finals appearance. After his Los Angeles Lakers won Game 6 of the NBA Finals to win the title, James said, "I want my damn respect." James might be one of the most popular athletes on the planet, but ratings surely don't reflect it.

The deciding NBA title game drew 5.6 million viewers. That was less than half of what a hum-drum NFL game drew on the same Sunday night as the Lakers won. Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Dodgers drew 9.66 million viewers during their Game 7 win in the National League Championship Series just a week later. It wasn't even the best Los Angeles draw that night.

James wants "damn respect," but here are the ratings, compared by each Sunday:

Sunday, October 11:
NBA Finals Game 6—Lakers vs Heat: 5.6 million viewers
NFL Sunday Night—Vikings at Seahawks: 11.4 viewers

Los Angeles was the top market among the four teams playing on October 11, and second-largest city in the United States. The largest city (New York) had no teams involved on October 11, nor October 18. In that October 11 night, the next-biggest city involved was Miami, which had the Lakers as opponents.

Then there was October 18, when there were two professional teams from Los Angeles playing games that night. The Dodgers came from behind to beat the Braves in Game 7 of the NLCS. The Dodgers drew better than the Lakers did a week earlier, but not as well as the L.A. Rams that same night, which pulled 12.6 million viewers.

Sunday, October 18:
NLCS Game 7—Braves vs Dodgers: 9.66 million viewers
NFL Sunday Night—LA Rams at SF 49ers: 12.60 million viewers

None of these numbers can be downplayed because of in-person fan attendance, or lack thereof. Neither of the Sunday night NFL games allowed fans. The NBA Finals and NLCS only allowed limited fans. And although the NLCS (played in Arlington, Texas) allowed more fans, they still drew more TV viewers.

No disrespect to the NBA, it's just how it is.

LeBron James
LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts after winning the 2020 NBA Championship over the Miami Heat in Game Six of the 2020 NBA Finals at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on October 11, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

How did this happen when the NBA's best player (LeBron James) made it to the NBA Finals?

The league played a season, and playoffs, like none other. The NBA was a pioneer when it postponed its entire season because of COVID-19. The NBA made that call after just one player tested positive for the virus on March 11. Soon after, the entire sports world was put on hold—following the NBA's lead.

The NBA steered a path to become one of the first to play ball again—with or without fans. It created a "bubble" at ESPN's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida.

During the lead-up to restarting, a series of incidents led to social justice protests all over the country. The NBA eventually allowed its players and coaches to carry out their own protests, or demonstrations.

This is while the NBA didn't allow fans, and when TV coverage started in afternoons.

Before the restart of the NBA, social justice marches took place all over the country—particularly after the death of George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Floyd was a Black man who died while in custody of the Minneapolis police. A video was posted online that showed [now former] Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes. Floyd's last words heard in the video were "I can't breathe."

NBA players wanted to use their stature as pro athletes to send messages against social injustice and police brutality against Blacks. The league allowed players to post messages like: Equality, Black Lives Matter and other popular sayings on the backs of their jerseys. The league also had "Black Lives Matter" painted on all of the courts, it allowed players to wear warm-up shirts that had other messages, and the league allowed players to kneel during the national anthem as another way of protesting.