Cleveland still tunes in for LeBron

The NBA can thank Cleveland for helping to produce the biggest cable audience for a professional basketball game in history.

More than 11.1 million viewers tuned in for Sunday's opening game of the Eastern Conference finals between Miami and Chicago, according to statistics released Monday by TNT, the network showing the game won by the Bulls.

The previous record was set in 2003 when 10.8 million watched Michael Jordan play in his final All-Star Game.

It's not surprising the Chicago and South Florida markets ranked first and second for Sunday's game.

It might be surprising the country's third-largest viewing audience was in Cleveland, the former home of Heat star LeBron James.

According to CNBC, 24.3 percent of Chicago households watched the game, along with 23.3 percent of South Florida households -- which does not include the West Palm Beach market -- and 10.5 percent of Cleveland households.

Cleveland fans must have rejoiced when James was held to 15 points and his team lost.

The audience size for the NBA game might have received a bump in the Cleveland market when the city's Indians were rained out that day.

The Bulls host the Heat again tonight on TNT, while the Indians play the White Sox in Chicago at the same time.

That will force Cleveland fans to decide if they want to watch to see if their Indians can maintain the major leagues' best record or torture themselves by watching James play in the conference finals.

■ BARKLEY BACKS GAY EXEC -- A few days after Phoenix Suns president and chief executive Rick Welts said he was gay in a New York Times article, Charles Barkley was quick to weigh in on the announcement.

"So what?" Barkley responded when asked about Welts during an interview with Mike Wise of the Washington Post.

Barkley said he's sure he has had gay teammates on at least two of his NBA teams.

"First of all, every player has played with gay guys," he said. "It bothers me when I hear these reporters and jocks get on TV and say, 'Oh, no guy can come out in a team sport. These guys would go crazy.'

"First of all, quit telling me what I think. I'd rather have a gay guy who can play than a straight guy who can't play."

Count on Barkley to give it to you straight.

■ NASCAR, ESPN TO SPLIT -- National commercials during IndyCar races have shared the TV screen with live racing since 2005 in an ESPN innovation.

Six years later, the sports network will do the same with the final 10 races of the NASCAR Sprint Cup season during the series' Chase for the championship.

In what's being called NASCAR NonStop, commercial breaks will feature a split-screen format showing an advertisement on the left side of the screen and continuation of racing action on the right side.

It is something for which NASCAR fans have been clamoring.

But this way you can't fast-forward past commercials.