The Los Angeles Lakers’ first game since Kobe Bryant’s death was the second-most watched regular-season NBA game on ESPN.
The game Friday against the Portland Trail Blazers averaged 4.41 million viewers. The only telecast to surpass that since ESPN resumed NBA coverage in 2002-03 was a January 2003 game between the Lakers and Houston Rockets that featured the first matchup between Shaquille O’Neal and Yao Ming (4.88 million).
According to Nielsen, the Bryant pregame ceremony averaged 5.23 million viewers. The audience peaked at 6.07 million between 10:45 p.m. and 11 p.m. Eastern, which was the conclusion of the ceremony and the start of the game.
By comparison, a game between Houston and the Denver Nuggets scheduled during a similar time slot last year averaged 1.6 million.
The “Hoop Streams” pregame — which was streamed between 9:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. Eastern — had a record 2.4 million views, according to the network. The show is streamed on ESPN.com and its app as well as Twitter and YouTube.
JOE REEDY AP Sports Writer