Kobe Bryant is no Tiger Woods. When Woods doesn’t suit up, nobody turns on the golf tournament–a nod to Tiger’s draw power long after his dominance departed. (Woods last won a major in 2008.) But the NBA doesn’t rely on a single player, even one as prominent as Kobe Bryant. It’s a league full of marketable stars. Kobe remains the most decorated active player, winner of five championships and the league’s third leading scorer all-time, having just surpassed a guy named Michael Jordan. But Kobe Bryant was in street clothes for the NBA Christmas game against the Chicago Bulls–and even so the TNT Lakers-Bulls broadcast set a record for a Christmas Day primetime cable game with 3.9 million total viewers (according to TNT via Neilsen).
LeBron James’ return to Miami with his new Cleveland Cavaliers outfit drew 9.3 million on ABC, where it was the marquee Christmas Day matchup. The network said that number was a 19% increase over its audience for last year’s NBA Christmas Day marquee game. The Bulls, by the way, beat the Kobe-less Lakers. The Miami Heat spoiled LeBron’s return.