(Reuters) – An unprecedented third straight NBA Finals clash between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors may highlight the league’s lack of parity but will be a ratings bonanza nonetheless, say sports industry analysts.
The Cavs and Warriors steamrolled their respective opponents en route to the Finals, setting up a matchup some are likening to the 1975 “Thrilla in Manila” — the third and final boxing match between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.
“This is what everybody has been waiting for, this is what we have been talking about and writing about and now it’s coming to fruition,” Bob Dorfman, creative director of Baker Street Advertising in San Francisco, told Reuters. “The inevitability of this matchup makes it more exciting.”
From the moment the final buzzer sounded after last year’s Finals, the reigning champion Cavaliers and Warriors seemed destined to return this year for the ultimate grudge match between the last two NBA champions.
The Warriors and their cast of All-Stars led by Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant are undefeated after sweeping their three best-of-seven playoff series, a feat never accomplished before.
They are desperate to avenge last year’s Finals loss where their bid to repeat as champions fell apart in stunning fashion when they squandered a 3-1 series lead and lost the decisive seventh game on their home court.
The Cavaliers, powered by the game’s best player in LeBron James, are 12-1, with their only playoff hiccup coming in a Game Three loss of the Eastern Conference final.
While there has been little intrigue all season long, a ho-hum regular season and predictable start to the playoffs will soon be a distant memory if the Cavs and Warriors produce a memorable series like last year.
“Conventional wisdom basically suggests that having dynamic rivalries of great teams is really good for a sport, even if it does leave more cities on the outside looking in,” Robert Boland, director of the sports administration program at Ohio University, told Reuters.
“But while we love great competition between great teams we don’t want the rest of the season to be a foregone conclusion, particularly at the prices the NBA charges for tickets.”
With three-times NBA champion James in the best playoff form of his career and the Warriors on a revenge path, even the most casual fans may find it hard to turn away when the series begins on Thursday in Oakland.
“The two best teams is what you want. Plus you’ve got a rubber match in that they will play three Finals in a row and each has won one,” said Dorfman. “So this is a bigger deal than just another championship.”