Much has been made of the price you pay to win, and the Los Angeles Lakers and Tampa Bay Lightning have captured a piece of history that will long be remembered.
Winning championships during a pandemic can be characterized as capping off the longest season that nobody saw. The NBA season started the last week of October 2019. Right from the start, on October 4, 2019, the league was hit with the news that China and its state-run network CCTV suspended relations.
The network pulled all NBA games from its programming agreement in wake of Houston Rockets’ General Manager Daryl Morey’s tweet supporting protests in Hong Kong. The NBA has long been doing business with the communist country China since the 1990s, which has provided NBA games and players. I guess for some, business is business.
It was a huge financial hit for the NBA— the league generates nearly $1 billion annually through distribution and streaming services. As the NBA season continued, the death of long-time former league commissioner David Stern and the tragic helicopter crash in California that killed NBA icon Kobe Bryant was a powerful blow to the NBA family.
After the All-Star game tributes to Stern and Bryant in Chicago in late February, the league tried to carry on with the second half of the season.
On March 12, the NBA suspended the season following the news of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. and two Utah Jazz players tested positive. The NBA owners and NBPA over the next few months came together with a plan, assisted by the Center For Disease Control (CDC), to try and finish the 2019-20 season.
The NBA invited 22 of the league’s 30 teams—those that mathematically were still in contention for the playoffs—to play in a secured bubble hotel environment in Orlando, Florida, with no fans or family. The players and coaches were all in and were subjected to daily testing and security protocols.
The players and the league came together, agreeing also to support the Black Lives Matter Movement. Players also used social justice messages and encouraged voting on their jerseys. Something this country has never seen before.
The deaths at the hands of police, the torture of George Floyd in Minneapolis, and the shooting of Breonna Taylor in Louisville led to protest nationally, and while in the bumble, these unified men, and women WNBA players, forced us to face a racist truth in America.
Amazingly, it all worked together. After eliminating eight teams, 16 qualified for the playoffs. And after 90 days and zero positive tests, the Miami Heat and Los Angeles Lakers slugged it out in the NBA Finals.
The Lakers won the championship four games to two over Miami to capture the franchise’s 17th NBA Championship. The Lakers, after missing the playoffs six straight years, beat Portland, Houston, and Denver to reach the Finals.
Miami, led by Jimmy Butler, beat Indiana, Milwaukee, and Boston to win the East. Had Miami not lost starters Bam Adebayo and leading scorer Goran Dragic to injury in several finals games, the result may have been different. We learned that Butler is a great player and Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor made a major mistake in trading Butler.
The Lakers have now tied the Celtics with 17 NBA Championships. James was named the MVP of the Finals, winning his fourth title. He is the first player to win NBA Championships with three different franchises, Miami, Cleveland, and Los Angeles. He’s played in an NBA record 260 playoff games.
The depth and impact of the messages and sacrifices these players have made on social change will take on greater understanding after the November election.