NBA All-Star Game, With Kobe Bryant At The Center, Rises In Ratings

Turner Sports said its coverage of Sunday’s NBA All-Star Game, simulcast live on TNT and TBS from Chicago’s United Center, drew an average of 7.3 million viewers, an 8% increase over last year’s game. That made it the night’s most-watched program on all of cable TV.

The annual midseason showcase, capping a full weekend of festivities including the well-watched All-Star Saturday Night, featured several tributes to Kobe Bryant, the Lakers icon who with his daughter Gianna and seven others were killed last month in a helicopter crash. The nods to Bryant were highlighted by Jennifer Hudson signing “For All We Know” just before the game tipped off at 8:30 PM ET/5:30 PM PT.

Hudson, who is from the Windy City, was introduced by Magic Johnson, who told attendees he wanted everyone to “come together” to honor Bryant and former NBA commissioner David Stern, who died on New Year’s Day.

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Overall, the pregame coverage on TNT averaged 6.3 million viewers overall, up 19% over last year.

Last week, the NBA renamed its All-Star Game MVP award the Kobe Bryant MVP Award (he had won the MVP four times in his career). The Los Angeles Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard won it Sunday.

The format of the game, which included an open, commercial-free fourth quarter, also helped spur interest. Turner said viewership peaked at 8 million from 11:15-11:30 PM ET, when Team LeBron came back to beat Team Giannis 157-155.

Under the new rules, the teams entered the fourth quarter playing to a target score in an untimed final stanza. The score after three quarters was 133-124 in favor of Team Giannis, meaning 133 points plus 24 (Bryant’s number) would win the game. The Lakers’ Anthony Davis hit a free throw to seal the victory for Team LeBron.

Ahead of All-Star Saturday Night — which included the slam-dunk contest, 3-point contest and a skills competition — Queen Latifah performed Stevie Wonder’s “Love’s in Need of Love Today” and added a rap verse to the song in honor of Bryant: “Give love a shot / When you do, say ‘Kobe’ / 24 hours, eight days a week, trophies.”

Overall, TNT’s combined Friday-Saturday-Sunday coverage of the NBA’s All-Star Weekend grew 15% in viewers.

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