Anthony Edwards Captivates Gen Z and Boosts Timberwolves' Popularity

Anthony Edwards: The Rising Star Powering the Timberwolves' National Spotlight

by Faruk Imamovic
Anthony Edwards Captivates Gen Z and Boosts Timberwolves' Popularity
© Getty Images/David Berding

Anthony Edwards is more than just the latest sensation in the NBA; he represents a new wave of American-born stars that the league desperately needs. At 22, Edwards is not only making headlines with his electrifying performance but also driving significant metrics in terms of viewership and social media engagement. This young star’s influence is palpable, marking a potential shift in the NBA's landscape.

The Viewership Surge

The Minnesota Timberwolves' Game 7 victory against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference second-round series drew an average of 8.41 million viewers across TNT and truTV, peaking at 11.3 million viewers. This impressive figure stands as the most-viewed early-round NBA playoff audience ever on a Warner Bros. Discovery/Turner Sports property, surpassing a 2009 Game 7 matchup between the Orlando Magic and Boston Celtics. What makes this milestone remarkable is the involvement of two franchises outside the top 10 media markets, with Minneapolis-St. Paul and Denver ranked 13th and 15th respectively by Nielsen.

"Sure, this was a Game 7 featuring the defending NBA champions and three-time MVP Nikola Jokić," you might say, "so naturally, people tuned in." While that's true, the unique element here is the heightened interest surrounding the Timberwolves, largely due to Edwards’ rising prominence. Their match against Denver even outperformed a Game 7 between the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers by two million viewers, demonstrating a national draw that's increasingly associated with Edwards' dynamic presence and the team's winning performance.

The Edwards Effect

Edwards' impact extends beyond the court. Kelly, who oversees ESPN's programming popularity and sports trends, noted that the Game 7 viewership was particularly striking, surpassing the Knicks-Pacers game, which traditionally would draw more attention due to New York's larger market. According to ESPN's social analytics, the Timberwolves emerged as the most popular NBA team on its social platforms during the playoffs, thanks to Edwards' rising profile.

“With the playoffs, you’re able to introduce a more casual audience to these players,” Kelly explained. “Minnesota didn’t have a lot of national windows during the season. What you saw with Round 2 was the momentum picking up around Anthony Edwards. When you look at Round 2 of the Timberwolves-Nuggets games, those games outperformed the Knicks-Pacers and all the other series. If I told you last year that Denver-Minnesota was going to outperform Knicks-Pacers, you would not believe me.”

Anthony Edwards Drives NBA Viewership Surge
Anthony Edwards Drives NBA Viewership Surge© Getty Images/David Berding

Kelly attributes much of this success to Edwards' charisma and appeal, especially among Gen Z. His comfort in front of the camera and savvy use of social media resonate with younger audiences, making him a potential generational talent. The SSRS Sports Poll supports this, indicating no clear successor to LeBron James and Steph Curry as the face of the NBA, spotlighting Edwards' unique position.

Voices of the Game

Kevin Harlan, who called the Timberwolves' Game 7 victory and is part of the commentary team for their Western Conference finals series against the Dallas Mavericks, provides a unique perspective. Having been a voice for the Timberwolves during their early years, Harlan recognizes the broader implications of Edwards’ ascent.

“The market size is always brought up on the question of whether a small market is able to dent the national landscape,” Harlan noted. “But we see all the ways people consume the game today, including social media and highlights, and it puts the players on a platform that is national and international in so many ways. There’s clearly an East Coast bias when it comes to coverage. So a player like Anthony Edwards, an American-born player, represents kind of a new narrative.”

Harlan highlights the blend of elements that made the Game 7 matchup a perfect storm for viewership: the defending champions, a perennial MVP in Jokić, a rising star in Edwards, and a thrilling game atmosphere. This combination proved that people will watch stars, regardless of market size, drawing parallels to how fans have historically followed standout athletes in smaller markets.

Sustained Interest

The Timberwolves continue to draw significant viewership in the Western Conference finals. Their Game 1 against the Dallas Mavericks averaged 7.02 million viewers, making it the second-most-watched NBA postseason game this season. This consistent interest underscores the national draw Edwards is cultivating. Minnesota has featured in three of the seven most-watched postseason games this year, trailing only the Nuggets, who had the advantage of facing the Lakers in the first round.

The Timberwolves' growing popularity raises the question: are they becoming America’s Team? While it might be premature to make such a proclamation, there is no denying the increasing number of NBA fans tuning in to watch Edwards and his team. As Edwards’ star continues to rise, so too does the national interest in the Timberwolves, positioning them as a compelling force in the NBA’s evolving narrative.