Three hundred fifty-five long days after the NBA’s opening night last October, we now have a new champion. Let’s reflect on a chaotic, historic season that — against all odds — came to an end with one team on top.
The 2019-20 NBA season really began last July with a memorable free agency period with more than 200 players free to sign with new franchises, according to CBS Sports. Some of the biggest names in the pool included Kevin Durant, Kawhi Leonard and Kyrie Irving.
Each of these players elected to put on a new uniform for this season, along with a number of other All-Stars. After a hectic free agency and some high-profile trades, including Anthony Davis to the Los Angeles Lakers and Paul George to the Los Angeles Clippers, the NBA looked like a fantasy basketball league, with new pairings of NBA stars in several cities.
For the first time in a long time, the NBA felt balanced. A lot of teams seemed capable of contending for a title, with no clear favorite: Lakers, Clippers, Milwaukee Bucks, Boston Celtics, Houston Rockets and more were on an even playing field. The All-Star reign in Oakland seemed to have ended.
After such an eventful offseason, the basketball community was excited for the season to begin, and the first few months did not disappoint.
There were a lot of great performances to watch: an unbelievable sophomore campaign from Luka Doncic, another prolific scoring season from James Harden, Irving’s 50-point Brooklyn debut, a close MVP race between Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James and really anything done by Damian Lillard.
Unfortunately, the events of early 2020 derailed an entertaining season. The tragic loss of Laker legend Kobe Bryant in January rocked the NBA and the city of Los Angeles. His death weighed heavily on the league, the Lakers organization and fans of the game.
A few weeks later, the 2020 NBA All-Star Game served as largely a tribute to Bryant, one of the few bright moments from the spring. Players all wore either number 24 or 2 to honor Kobe and his late daughter Gianna, respectively. The game format was changed as well. Instead of playing a traditional fourth quarter, the teams played to a target score: 24 points higher than the leading team’s total at the end of the third quarter, another Mamba tribute. Many fans agreed this was the most competitive All-Star Game they had seen in years, and it was just how Kobe would have wanted it.
Then in March, the coronavirus outbreak brought all sports seasons to a halt. I remember exactly where I was when I learned that the first NBA game in Oklahoma City was postponed — and then March Madness, and then the MLB season. Watching football with fans in seats just feels weird now.
It was a long time with no sports, and we didn’t know if the NBA’s season would even finish. Then in June, almost three months after the suspension of the season, the NBA announced its plan to resume the season.
From commissioner Adam Silver to the Players’ Association to all of the staff in Orlando that made the NBA bubble possible, it was an incredible effort to finish a season that felt so lost, and everyone deserves recognition. So much went into the planning, organization and execution of this event, and it was spectacularly successful: more than 100 days in the bubble, 22 teams, hundreds of people involved and not a single positive coronavirus test, per ESPN. Bravo.
The seeding games at the beginning of the NBA restart had some memorable performances, too. What a run from Devin Booker and the Phoenix Suns. Damian Lillard willed the Portland Trail Blazers into the playoffs, taking home the very first (and hopefully only) “Bubble MVP” award. BMVP?
But Sunday night marked the conclusion of maybe the most unusual NBA season ever — almost a full calendar year, suspended once in March and again briefly in September to protest racial injustice. The fact that the season resumed twice, an entire playoff bracket was played out and there were no coronavirus cases in the bubble is pretty incredible.
Sunday’s Game 6 ended with the Lakers claiming their seventeenth Larry O’Brien Trophy and their first since Kobe led them to the 2010 championship.
First things first, I have to give credit to the Miami Heat. They put together a legendary underdog run that we’ll remember for a long time. As the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, Miami swept Indiana, took down the regular season’s best team, the Bucks, in five games and eliminated a very talented Boston team, the third seed in the East. Missing their leading playoff scorer in Goran Dragic for the majority of the Finals, they still took the Lakers to six games.
But the Lakers captured the NBA’s ultimate prize in a season where they had the most to fight for. After such a difficult year, and after losing an L.A. legend in Kobe, this city needed a win. The Lakers promised it and they delivered it. There’s finally something to celebrate in Los Angeles.
Yet another brilliant finals performance from LeBron landed him his fourth Finals MVP award. Wearing the KB patch on his jersey, he averaged 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists to lead the Lakers past the Heat. Davis dominated on both ends of the floor as well and indicated that he intends to re-sign with L.A. this offseason.
What a time to be a Lakers fan. Maybe next year, we’ll watch it live at Staples Center.
Wyatt Allsup is a junior writing about Los Angeles sports. His column, “Running the Break,” runs every other Tuesday.