On Sunday night, the Los Angeles Lakers brought a crazy and unprecedented NBA season to its conclusion by beating the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the Finals, to claim the 2020 championship. The Lakers did so in emphatic fashion, finishing off the Heat 106-93. They dominated the game from the start far more than the final score would suggest.
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The championship caps off not only a strange season for the NBA but a trying year for the city of Los Angeles. With the fanbase still mourning the passing of Kobe Bryant, the Lakers managed to snap a six-year playoff drought and a nine-year championship drought in the span of a few months, all while playing 2,500 miles from home. It’s not how anybody would have drawn it up, but in the end, the Lakers lifting the trophy is a fitting end to the 2019-20 NBA season.
Second Best in the City?
The Lakers began the 2019-20 season with many questioning whether they were even the best team in Los Angeles, much less the best team in the NBA. After all, the addition of LeBron James in the summer of 2018 wasn’t enough to get the Lakers to the playoffs last season. Meanwhile, the Clippers stole headlines last summer by bringing in both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Even with the Lakers trading for Anthony Davis to give James a second superstar to ease the burden on his shoulders, many pundits thought the Clippers would end up being the better team.
The belief that the Clippers were the new kings of Los Angeles was reinforced on the opening night of the season when the Clippers beat the Lakers 112-102. However, James, Davis, and company didn’t take kindly to that loss. The Lakers won 24 of their next 26 games, including a 14-1 record in the month of November. They asserted their dominance over the rest of the Western Conference, pronouncing themselves as the team to beat.
However, the hardship was far from over for the Lakers. On Christmas Day, they lost another head-to-head game with the Clippers in what would become the final game of a four-game losing streak. Then came 2020, and with it, endless heartache and challenges. There was Bryant’s tragic passing, which shook the entire NBA to its core, particularly James and the Lakers. The team lost its first game after Bryant’s death, losing four of seven games to close out the month of January.
Of course, just when the Lakers seemed to get back on track in February and the early part of March, once again looking like a championship contender, the NBA season was disrupted by the ongoing pandemic. Suddenly, there were questions about whether or not the season would even be completed.
The NBA moving into a bubble in July presented a new type of challenge for the Lakers. While they sat atop the Western Conference standings when play resumed, some questioned whether the Lakers were suited for play inside the bubble. Going 3-5 inside to close out the regular season only added to the skepticism that the Lakers could finish what they started before the season was suspended.
With every series, there seemed to be an abundance of critics who doubted the Lakers, predicting their eventual demise. The doubters grew louder in volume when the Lakers lost their first playoff game to the 8-seeded Trailblazers. However, James and Davis responded by leading the Lakers to four straight wins to take the series in five games. It was a similar story in the Conference Semifinals when the Rockets took Game 1 from the Lakers, only for L.A. to respond with four straight wins.
With the Clippers getting knocked out by the Nuggets, the Lakers managed to be the last team from Los Angeles still standing. However, many believed that if the Nuggets could beat the Clippers, they could do the same to the Lakers. But the Lakers quickly put an end to that talk. Unlike the previous series, the Lakers won the first two games against Denver, ultimately taking the series in five games to advance to the NBA Finals against the Heat. Once they got there, there was no more doubting the Lakers anymore.
Winning for Kobe
Throughout their run to the championship, the Lakers never forgot the loss of Bryant. His memory played an undeniable role in pushing the Lakers to win the title. Lakers GM Rob Pelinka says he could often hear Bryant’s voice telling him to “finish the task.”
“I think Kobe and Gianna have guided this team the entire year,” Pelinka said after the Lakers were crowned champions. “Kobe’s voice is always in my head, always, every day, every minute.”
Lakers fans who took to the streets of downtown Los Angeles to celebrate Sunday’s win, chanted “Kobe, Kobe” during the celebration. Vanessa Bryant also posted her congratulations to Pelinka and the Lakers on Instagram, reminding us of the connection between Kobe and the Lakers and how thrilled Kobe would have been to see the Lakers win another championship.
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Then there’s King James. Between the pressure on his shoulders to carry the Lakers every night, Bryant’s passing, and the eyes and ears pointed in his direction with the expectation that he would set an example to follow during the Black Lives Matter movement, it’s safe to say that nobody had a more trying yet triumphant season than King James. But in the end, James delivered in a way that only he could.
With Sunday’s win, James has now won four NBA championships and four NBA Finals MVP awards, doing so with three different teams and under dramatically different circumstances. While his time in Los Angeles isn’t over, with this championship under these circumstances, it’s safe to say that James has cemented his legacy with the Lakers. With the promise of more to come, there is already an argument for James to have his jersey retired by the Lakers. One day, perhaps sooner rather than later, LeBron could find his jersey hanging from the Staples Center rafters next to Kobe’s jersey.