2:03pm PT by Rick Porter
L.A. Lakers' Kobe Bryant Tribute Draws Big ESPN Audience
ESPN drew a big audience Friday night for the Los Angeles Lakers' first game since the death of retired superstar Kobe Bryant.
National coverage of the game, including a tribute to Bryant from current Lakers star LeBron James, averaged 4.41 million viewers, the fourth-largest audience for an NBA game this season. The three games ahead of it were all part of the league's Christmas Day showcase.
The audience for the Lakers game against the Portland Trail Blazers was more than double ESPN's average for NBA games so far this season and ranked in the top five Friday night for all of broadcast and cable TV. It also earned a 2.0 rating in the key ad demographic of adults 18-49, more than twice as large as its closest competition (a post-game SportsCenter at 0.85), and a 2.0 in adults 25-54.
In Los Angeles, Spectrum SportsNet's telecast of the game delivered the cable network's second-largest household rating (4.51) and highest rating among adults 25-54 (3.25) for a Lakers game this season, while the pregame show hit all-time highs in both measures.
Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others died Jan. 26 when a helicopter they were riding in crashed in Calabasas, California. The other victims have been identified as Orange Coast College baseball coach John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and their 13-year-old daughter, Alyssa; youth basketball coach Christina Mauser; Sarah Chester and her 13-year-old daughter, Payton; and pilot Ara Zoboyan.
The NBA postponed a game between the Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers scheduled for Jan. 28. Every seat at Staples Center on Friday featured a replica of one of Bryant's jerseys, either No. 8 or No. 24, for fans in attendance to wear.
The Trail Blazers beat the Lakers, 127-119, in Friday's game.