Just in case you were wondering, the 1998 NBA finals — featuring the Chicago Bulls' triumph over your Utah Jazz — remains the highest-rated in television history.

The series averaged an 18.7 rating, which means that 18.7 percent of the TV-equipped homes in America were watching the games.

This year's NBA finals, featuring the San Antonio Spurs' sweep of the Cleveland Cavaliers, averaged a 6.2 rating. And that means that 93.8 percent of the homes in America with TV were watching something else (or not watching TV) when the games were being played.

Those are the worst ratings for any NBA finals. Ever.

A rating point represents more homes now than it did in 1998 — the population has increased — but those are still startling numbers. Startlingly bad numbers.

And, given that overall ratings were down for the NBA this season — both during the regular season and the playoffs — you'd have to bet that the league would take a big hit when it came time to renew its national television contracts.

You'd lose.

ESPN/ABC and TNT have agreed to a new eight-year contract (beginning in 2008) that will pay the NBA $930 million per season. That's an increase of almost 22 percent over the $766 million per season the two television entities have been paying under the terms of their current six-year deal.

Gee, NBA commissioner David Stern must be some kind of genius — he got a whole lot more out of a whole lot less.

If he's a genius, does that make the TV executives who agreed to this deal somewhat less than brilliant? Or does it make them visionaries?

The new deal isn't just for broadcast and cable television, it's for streaming Internet video and wireless communications as well.

The thought of trying to watch a basketball game on an iPhone doesn't exactly appeal to me, but maybe it will to others.

It's a big gamble. A $7.44 billion gamble, as a matter of fact.

NOT SURPRISINGLY, local ratings for NBA basketball — the Jazz on KJZZ-Ch. 14 — bucked the national trend and were up this season.

Of course, that sort of thing tends to happen when your Utah Jazz are back in playoff contention once again after several years of being less competitive.

ONE LAST WORD on the whole NBA playoffs on KJZZ thing that got some people so irate.

(And irrational, in some cases.)

Comment on this story

Ch. 14 aired every Jazz playoff game it could. If a Jazz playoff game wasn't on Ch. 14, it was because the local station was prohibited from carrying it under the terms of those ABC/ESPN and TNT contracts.

It is, well, just stupid to think otherwise and accuse station management and ownership of deliberately withholding games. Ch. 14 could have made a nice chunk of change by airing the games it didn't.

Would you deliberately annoy your customers and take money off your bottom line unless you had no choice?

'Nuff said.

E-mail: pierce@desnews.com