LeBron James returning to Cleveland for the first time since signing with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2018 NBA free agency was a dominant storyline, and the interest paid off for ESPN. The network reported a 2.6 Metered Market Rating, with a peak of 3.3 rating for the matchup with the Cavaliers.
The Lakers-Cavs game now stands as the highest-rated NBA telecast this season across all networks. In the Cleveland market, the ESPN broadcast generated a 14.8 rating, making it the network’s highest-rated NBA regular season game ever in the market.
Excluding Christmas Day games, it was ESPN’s highest-rated doubleheader during an NBA regular season since October 2014. The 2.6 metered market rating was up 18 percent from a comparable game that ESPN broadcasted last season (Golden State Warriors vs. Oklahoma City Thunder).
Moreover, it was ESPN’s highest-rated telecast for an NBA regular-season game since the Golden State Warriors won their record 73rd game of the season in April 2016. That of course came on the same night as Kobe Bryant scoring 60 points in his final game, which dominated headlines.
James predictably received much better treatment in his return than his first visit to Quicken Loans Arena after signing with the Miami Heat. The Cavaliers played a tribute video, which led to James acknowledging the crowd and showing his appreciation for their support.