by Alex Langer
Throughout the 1970s, college basketball took up the lion’s share of Sports Illustrated covers until 1974. The transition happened between 1974-1976, because after 1975, SI featured the NBA seven more times than the NCAA. At the same time, the 1975 NCAA Championship was one of the highest-rated games of all time, drawing a 21.3 rating, which is almost twice as high as the most recent title game (UNC-Villanova), which only drew a 12.0. So, on the one hand, the NCAA featured more viewership, but on the other, the NBA was clearly becoming more intriguing. While the NBA may not have fully taken over in the latter half of the 70s, the pieces were put in place to ensure NBA dominance in the decades to come.
The case for NBA takeover is a complicated one. SI coverage focused primarily on the NBA, on the career of Bill Walton, who had transitioned from UCLA to the Portland Trail Blazers, and of the drama of the forthcoming NBA-ABA merger. However, no NBA World Championship Series in the 1970s broke the 10.0 average rating mark. Clearly there was a disconnect between the drama of the NBA (and journalistic interest) and the quality of the final product as perceived by fans. So what was happening in the second half of the 1970s to set the stage for NBA dominance?