All eyes on LeBron James, Miami Heat (except in Pyongyang) thanks to NBA’s global reach

Interest in the NBA Finals isn’t just over the top in South Florida. From Paris to the Philippines, basketball fans are tuning in like never before.

06/21/2012 12:01 AM

09/08/2014 5:56 PM

With his elusive first title now just one win away, LeBron James probably feels like the eyes of the world are upon him.

But as pressure builds for James and the Heat to finish off the Thunder in Thursday’s Game 5, the MVP can take solace in this:

There are entire swaths of people in far-flung places like Comoros (an island nation in the Indian Ocean), South Sudan and North Korea who won’t be tuned in. They don’t get the game.

Most everyone else? They are able to watch Thursday’s potential clincher if they’ve got a TV, laptop or tablet and the proper cable subscription.

More than any other American sport, the NBA prides itself as a global force, and this year’s Finals prove that’s no empty boast. Pro basketball’s signature event — which has posted record ratings domestically — is available this year in 47 languages to 215 countries and territories.

NBA publicists claim the league’s social media operation reaches nearly 280 million fans globally, its website has recorded more than seven billion page views this season, and the league’s independent television network (named simply NBA TV) had its best-rated regular season ever.

“Across the NBA, all the stats and numbers on all platforms speak for themselves,” said Christina Miller, the senior vice president and general manager of NBA Digital. “They are definitely headed in a positive direction.”

The NBA’s media operation is so diverse, complex and ubiquitous that even those in charge of running it can’t say for certain how many people they have scurrying around the AmericanAirlines Arena this week. (It’s easily in the hundreds).

Around every turn in the bowels of the arena, you’ll find someone in an official NBA vest — be it a photographer snapping a crowd reaction shot, a blogger Tweeting off a piece of video, or a statistician crunching numbers.

But for all the ways the league reaches people, nothing can match the drama of the live broadcast. Fourteen new global broadcast partners are airing the Finals for the first time this year, and their feeds all comes from the same place: The cramped, chaotic international truck parked just outside the Triple-A’s south loading dock.

If you’re watching the game at a café in Paris or on an air base in South Korea, the video’s the same — produced and beamed via satellite around the globe by the NBA. The only difference between the broadcasts: the commentary, which is provided by each network’s respective on-air talent in their native tongue, either from the arena or back home in the studio.

The Turkish network D-Smart was among those which sent their own crew stateside for the Finals. About an hour before tipoff Tuesday, the network’s two talking heads — including a rotund, long-haired gent dressed Tuesday in a faded T-shirt — filed a live report back home using the NBA’s technology.

Within the next 15 minutes, Spanish, French and Chinese television all took a turn.

“We’re reaching record levels in terms of viewership right now in the Philippines,” said Matt Brabants, head of the NBA’s international media distribution operation. “They’re very, very savvy basketball fans.”

Back inside the arena, in a tiny closet down the hall from the Heat locker room, photo editor Joe Amati was busy poring through the first of roughly 10,000 images his team of photographers would take of Game 4. In addition to putting them on the NBA’s website and out over social media, Amati uploads the best shots onto Getty Images, a subscription-based wire service used by newspapers, magazines and television networks.

Everybody has a role, the suits at the NBA like to say, from the photo runner to Charles Barkley — Miami’s least-favorite talking head. Barkley, who usually waxes poetic on TNT, is appearing on NBA TV’s pre- and post-game shows at the Finals, courtesy of the league’s partnership with Turner Sports.

“I don’t think we’ve hit the [global] saturation point yet,” said Melissa Rosenthal Brenner, the NBA’s vice president of marketing. “It’s going to be exciting to watch.”

Especially if they could finally get on the air in Comoros.

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