The NBA attracted plenty of attention all offseason, and that's carried over into the real games.
Those months of free-agent intrigue fed into robust television ratings in the regular season and now into the playoffs. Viewership for the first round was up 30 percent from last year.
"We actually couldn't be more pleased," Commissioner David Stern said on a conference call Monday. "We're actually a little surprised, but pleasantly."
First-round games on ABC, ESPN and TNT were watched by an average of 4.15 million people, up from fewer than 3.2 million last year.
The big jump came on top of already-strong ratings. In 2007, the first round averaged fewer than 2.7 million viewers.
To this point of the playoffs, TNT has drawn the highest average rating ever for games on cable. The network's 23 games averaged a 2.7 rating — representing the percentage of American homes with televisions tuned in — easily eclipsing the previous high of 2.3 in 2009.
ESPN's first-round ratings were the highest since it began televising the playoffs in 2003, and ABC's were the best since 2004.
"I know it isn't league management that's responsible. I'm pretty sure it's the compelling stories the players have been delivering on the court," Stern said.
Even the series that ended quickly had plenty of close games in the first round. A No. 8 seed upset a No. 1 when Memphis eliminated San Antonio. Marquee teams in the Lakers, Celtics, Knicks and Bulls made the playoffs — along with a certain Miami squad that's been getting so much publicity.
A Grizzlies-Hawks finals wouldn't exactly inspire the same buzz as, say, Lakers-Heat, but for now the NBA is in prime position to draw some more big ratings.
"This is about as good as it gets," Stern said.