At a Donald Trump rally on the eve of the 2020 presidential election, supporters of the president broke out in a chant of “LeBron James sucks.”
Trump was holding one of a number of final-days rallies in anticipation of Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 3. At Monday’s rally in Avoca, Penn., Trump brought up the NBA’s ratings decline in 2020 and during the NBA Finals between LeBron James’ Lakers and the Heat.
“How about basketball? How about LeBron? I felt badly for LeBron,” Trump said, falsely implying the NBA player protests against racial injustice were the cause for a drop in TV ratings. “… I felt very badly. Down 71 percent and that’s for their championship — I didn’t want watch one shot.”
After Trump mentioned James, the crowd did the rest with its chants, and Trump remarked, “What a crowd. What a crowd.”
The comments were framed through the lens that NBA ratings were down relative to years past, which was true but exaggerated. The 2020 NBA Finals ratings saw a 51 percent drop from 2019. But that’s not a problem exclusive to the NBA — almost every sport has seen a decline in ratings since their return during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The World Series was the lowest-rated on record with an average of 9.78 million viewers across six games. NFL prime-time games are down from 2019, too, but still regularly dominate lists of the most-watched programs on network television for a given week.
Despite that, overall sports viewing is actually up during the COVID-19 pandemic, according to The Washington Post.
What’s different in 2020 is the overlap of seasons at unusual times. The NBA Finals don’t normally have to compete with the opening of the NFL season or with the MLB playoffs. That’s not to mention the Stanley Cup Finals, Triple Crown horse races, and multiple golf and tennis majors all being played at the same time. The Washington Post and many other publications have quoted numbers from Sports Media Watch that have explained how overall viewing has risen despite individual leagues seeing declines year-over-year.
There’s history between Trump and James, who endorsed Hillary Clinton in 2016. Trump has called James “nasty” and a “loser” in the past, while James has called Trump a “clown.” In 2017, James tweeted, “Hate has always existed in America. Yes we know that but Donald Trump just made it fashionable again! Statues has nothing to do with us now!”
James has also previously declined potential NBA championship invitations to Trump’s White House before they were even extended. James was also recently joined on his personal show by former President Barack Obama in the lead up to the 2020 election, as well.
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