On Sunday, Oct. 11, the Los Angeles Lakers won their 17th NBA Championship. In a year stricken by grief after the loss of basketball legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna, the 2019-20 team was crowned victorious in a year unlike any other.
The COVID-19 pandemic upended the season back in March, making the completion of the season unclear. The league and commissioner Adam Silver, alongside the NBA Players Association (NBPA), decided to resume the season on July 30. All the games were played in Orlando on the Disney World campus. The players from the NBA’s 22 teams were secluded from outside contact, including family members. The Lakers and the Miami Heat spent over 90 days inside the bubble away from friends and family.
After the game, LeBron James was awarded NBA Finals MVP for the fourth time. In his post-game speech, he said, “I just want my damn respect.” This was James’ fourth finals win in his 17-year career. During his 17 years in the NBA James has played for three teams: the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Heat, and the Lakers. This was also James’ second time turning a team around from a losing team to championship contenders. In the final game, James scored 28 points and notched his 10th triple-double in a finals game. James also became the all-time leader in playoff games with 260 court appearances.
This 355-day NBA season was one unlike any other. Protests over racial inequality consumed much of the summer and captured the attention of the NBPA. The league worked with the players to bring the struggles of minorities to light in a productive way. James was a very outspoken critic of police violence, supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. “We want justice no matter how long it takes,” James said after the Breonna Taylor ruling.
President Barack Obama, in a tweet, congratulated James, “Proud of my friend @KingJames for his fourth title, fourth Finals MVP, and for not only living up to the hype after seventeen seasons, but surpassing it as an extraordinary leader both on the court and in the public arena fighting for education, social justice, and our democracy.”
The league worked with the players association to open up arenas for polling places in the 2020 election. Throughout the playoffs, shooting shirts for all teams were adorned with the word “VOTE.” On the court in Orlando, “Black Lives Matter” was painted above the NBA logo at mid-court. The league also allowed players to include social justice messages on the back of their jerseys. Some of these messages included the names of those who were victims of police violence, “Equality” and “Black Lives Matter.”
This activism was not exclusive to the NBA, as players on the WNBA championship-winning Seattle Storm dedicated their season to Breonna Taylor. Breanna Stewart, a two-time WNBA champion and two-time WNBA Finals MVP with the Storm spoke about the “Say Her Name” campaign at their season opener against the New York Liberty
After the conclusion of the Lakers 4-2 series win, Vanessa Bryant, wife of the late Kobe Bryant, took to Instagram to congratulate the team for their championship. She posted a picture of Kobe with Lakers General Manager Rob Pelinka. "Congratulations Uncle P!" Bryant wrote. "Congratulations @lakers Kobe was right, RP! 'Stay the course-blockout the noise. @Kobe Bryant Wish Kobe and Gigi were here to see this.” Kobe Bryant, a Lakers legend and five-time NBA champion with the Lakers, passed away with his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash nearly nine months ago on January 26.
As of press time, there are no plans for a victory parade in LA. The Lakers have yet to receive an invite to the White House, a tradition that has been customary in years past but has been in flux during Trump’s years as president. In 2017, President Trump rescinded an invitation to then-NBA Champions the Golden State Warriors in a tweet. “Going to the White House is considered a great honor for a championship team. Stephen Curry is hesitating, therefore invitation is withdrawn!” wrote Trump.
The 2019-20 sports season was a strange one for all professional sports in the U.S. Hockey, baseball, basketball, soccer and football all had to adapt to play including using a bubble or stadiums with limited to no fans. The 2020-21 NBA season is slated to begin on Dec. 1, 2020, during which the Lakers will look to defend their championship.