Ever since last June, when Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors were celebrating the franchise's first title in 40 years on the home court of their vanquished opponent, the Cleveland Cavaliers, NBA fans—and more than a few TV and league executives—have been hoping for a rematch.
Tonight, ABC tips off the 2016 NBA Finals between the same two teams, as Curry and LeBron James go head-to-head for the second straight year in what could end up as the most watched and highest rated finals since Michael Jordan powered the Chicago Bulls to six championships in eight seasons. Last year's six-game series averaged 19.94 million viewers and a 13.07 household rating, the best performance since Jordan captured his sixth championship in 1998. A potential Game 7 could be the league's first game to reach 30 million viewers in 18 years.
Ahead of tonight's tip-off, Adweek went 5-on-5 with the man who will be calling his 11th NBA Finals, play-by-play commentator Mike Breen.
Adweek: This is the matchup that everyone wanted to see at the beginning of the season. What makes it so TV friendly?
Mike Breen: Any time it's a rematch in the finals, it's always fun to watch to see how, from one year to the next, teams either get better or adjust to how they play each other.
For Golden State, to have that incredible regular season and then to show some flaws during the playoffs to the point where many had said, "You know what, they're not getting out of this," and then to find a way to win and keep their dream of this magical season alive against a team that was playing so well—it's a tremendous story. You have LeBron, who has been overshadowed by Golden State, yet still puts up these historic numbers and still is doing incredible things night in and night out. And then there's the whole Cleveland title drought—it's one storyline after another.
How has the Warriors' two-year run of success, after 40 years of futility, helped to turn the Bay Area into one of the league's biggest markets?
They always had these crazy, passionate, loyal fans, even when they weren't very good. They had such a good knowledge of the game. It was always a fun place to go and announce because the fans were really into it, whether it was 10,000 or the building was packed. Now you put together this team that is so easy to root for; they've watched this team grow. They're all draft picks that grew up in front of this fan base. It's almost kind of like a family feeling. They had so many years of futility with an occasional season of success. All of a sudden that first year when the team is good again, those are probably the most special years for a fan.
What would winning a title for Cleveland—that just few years ago branded him Public Enemy No. 1—do for LeBron's brand and reputation?
Winning a title any year in Cleveland would make him the all-time sports icon in that city. They've had their heart broken so many times, to get over the hump and finally win the title, I can't even imagine the joy that would be in that city. He was so vilified that first year in Miami. He's done a great job turning it all around, but there are still some people out there who just want him to lose. I just don't understand the venom that people sometimes still direct toward him.
Does LeBron still have the best brand of anybody in the NBA, or has Curry caught up?
Curry is the new face of the league right now. Although LeBron certainly respects him, I think it might get under his skin a little bit. Everybody loves Curry and here's LeBron who puts up these incredible numbers. I think there's part of him that wants to show that he's still the best player in the world. We tend to take for granted his sustained excellence.
What is your take on the NBA's move to allow teams to sell ads on their jerseys?
In some ways, I'm surprised it's taken this long. It's the way of the world now. It's big business, and it's crazy for the league not to take advantage. We're all purists to an extent, and we all would like to keep it the same simple way we rooted for it as a kid, but that's being naive. If there's got to be a logo on a jersey, as long as they're still playing the game, that's all that matters.