Two nights after letting the Larry O’Brien Trophy slip through their grasp in Game 5 of the NBA Finals, the Los Angeles Lakers captured their 17th title on Sunday night with a 106-93 Game 6 win over the Miami Heat, slapping a fitting ending onto the most turbulent season in league history.
It was less than 10 months ago that Lakers icon Kobe Bryant, his 12-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others died in a helicopter crash along the California coast. And although series MVP LeBron James and most of the current Lakers were never Bryant’s teammates, their championship run still served as a meaningful tribute to his legacy, which included the club’s previous five league crowns.
‘Ever since the tragedy, all we wanted to do was do it for him,’ said Lakers star Anthony Davis. ‘We didn’t want to let him down.
‘It’s a tough moment,’ Davis continued. ‘He was a big brother to all of us.’
LeBron James holds his fourth NBA Finals MVP award, which is named for Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell
LeBron James and former rival-turned-teammate Rajon Rondo embrace after Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Sunday
LeBron James celebrates his fourth NBA title with JR Smith and his Los Angeles Lakers teammates on Sunday night
The Lakers 17th title comes 10 months after the deaths of franchise icon Kobe Bryant and his 12-year-old daughter Gianna
Bryant’s widow Vanessa posted a picture of her late husband with Lakers GM Rob Pelinka, his former agent
Los Angels Lakers fans watch on a mobile phone as the Lakers play against the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the 2020 NBA Finals
Lakers fans celebrate near Staples Centers as Los Angeles plays against Miami Heat in Game 6 of the 2020 NBA Finals
That the NBA season ended nearly one year after it began, and on a neutral court inside a coronavirus-resistant ‘bubble’ only served to make the moment more surreal.
The league became America’s first to postpone its season at the onset of the pandemic on March 11, leading to a four-month hiatus. Ultimately NBA commissioner Adam Silver and the players’ union agreed to finish the year with 22 teams at Disney’s ESPN Wide World of Sports campus outside Orlando.
The challenge was keeping the pandemic at bay in a state where over 15,000 people have died due to COVID-19. But unlike the NFL and Major League Baseball, leagues that went without bubbles and subsequently were forced to postpone several games due to infections, the NBA remained COVID-free in Florida.
The downside of the bubble may have been the in-game atmosphere, which was cold and somewhat contrived.
There were no fans to celebrate with the Lakers. The only attendees were team employees and small groups of relatives and friends, who remained masked and practiced social distancing.
Instead of courtside celebrities, the Lakers were surrounded by the digital images of fans projected onto the scoreboards encircling a court emblazoned with the words ‘Black Lives Matter.’
That slogan, like the social justice messages stitched onto the players’ jerseys, would have been unthinkable back when the season started in October. In recent years the NBA actually required players to stand for the national anthem.
NBA 2019-2020 SEASON TIMELINE
The NBA is capping off what has been the most turbulent campaign in league history. Here is a brief synopsis of the last 12 months:
- October 4, 2019 – Rockets general manager sparks an international controversy by tweeting his support for anti-Chinese government protestors in Hong Kong. The NBA, which makes an estimated $4billion annually in China, is taken off state TV for one year. Morey apologizes for the uproar over the tweet, but is not punished by the NBA
- January 1, 2020 – Former commissioner David Stern passes away at 77 following a brain hemorrhage. Stern is credited with building the NBA’s popularity in China
- January 26, 2020 – Los Angeles Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his 12-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others are killed in a helicopter crash along the California coast
- March 11, 2020 – The NBA becomes the first American pro sports league to suspend its season due to the coronavirus pandemic after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tests positive
- July 31, 2020 – The season resumes inside the league’s Disney World bubble, where players, media, coaches, and other staff are isolated from the pandemic. Following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd on May 25, the league and players’ union agreed to approve social justice messaging on jerseys, such as ‘Equality’ and ‘Vote’. The jerseys are first worn inside the bubble, where many players draw criticism for kneeling in protest of racism during the national anthem
- August 26, 2020 – The Milwaukee Bucks boycott a game in protest of the Kenosha, Wisconsin police shooting of Jacob Blake. The season is suspended for a second time before restarting three days later
- October 9, 2020 – The NBA returns to Chinese state television
But following the Minneapolis police killing of George Floyd on May 25, the league embraced the protests performed by players, most of whom declined to stand for ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ inside the bubble.
The 2019-2020 season will also be remembered for the passing of longtime commissioner David Stern, who suffered a brain hemorrhage in December and passed away on January 1.
Stern will perhaps best be remembered for building the league’s presence in China, which was, until recently, a $4 billion market for the NBA.
That, however, was put into jeopardy when the season began in October, when Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted his support for anti-Beijing protestors in Hong Kong.
China’s government furiously banned the league from state TV for a year (a ban that ended Friday), while the NBA took criticism in North American for its perceived kowtowing to the communist nation.
Although Morey apologized for the uproar, he was never punished by the league or reprimanded publicly by Silver.
On Sunday night, all of that seemed like a distant memory as James was capturing his fourth NBA Finals MVP.
James, love him or hate him, is in his own category now. He has led three franchises to NBA titles, something nobody has ever done. His legacy was complete long before Sunday night, when the Los Angeles Lakers became NBA champions for the 17th time by beating the Miami Heat and winning the title to cap a season like none other, in a bubble like none other.
But that legacy is just a bit shinier now.
‘I guess, as Frank Sinatra would say, I did it my way,’ James said earlier in these playoffs.
That’s not up for debate.
He’s got four titles. He’s a four-time NBA Finals MVP, the second to win that many. He’s done it all with the NBA’s biggest target on his back, with every action and every word scrutinized and often criticized.
James has become the epitome of the independent superstar athlete, something many try to be but few even have a chance of pulling off. He does whatever he wants, whenever he wants, however he wants and makes it work. Bill Russell will forever have more rings and Michael Jordan will forever be the choice of many as the NBA’s greatest player. And that’s OK with James, who has forged his own path.
‘The game of basketball will pass me by,’ James said as the title loomed. ‘There will be a new group of young kids and vets and rookies throughout the course of this game. So, I can’t worry about that as far as on the floor. How I move, how I walk, what I preach, what I talk about, how I inspire the next generation is what matters to me the most.’
He’s never forgotten that he was once a broke kid from Akron, Ohio. If he’s not a billionaire yet, he’s trending that way. He’s on a Wheaties box now, saying its unveiling last week was ‘one of the best moments of my life.’ He founded a school and stays involved with matters there. He’s actively trying to get more people, particularly Black people, to vote than ever before.
Oh, if that wasn’t enough, he delivered a championship to a Lakers franchise that went 10 years without one and did so in a year when they needed it most, letting them cry tears of joy after all the tears of anguish that followed the death of Kobe Bryant in a helicopter crash in January.
‘I think it’s remarkable what LeBron is still doing at his age,’ Denver coach Michael Malone said of James. ‘The minutes he’s playing, how effective he is on both ends of the floor, and the impact he has on both ends of the floor, his will to win is just incredible.’
The 35-year-old James finished this postseason with 580 points; no one at his age had ever done that. He had 184 assists; no one at his age had ever done that. If he’s slowing down, he’s not showing it; he had 32 points in his first playoff game 14 years ago, he exceeded that six times in this postseason run.
‘He’s shown why he is the player that he is, why he’s had the career and the legacy that he’s continually building,’ Miami’s Jimmy Butler said.
James pictured holding the Larry O’Brien and Bill Russell trophies in front of Lakers GM Rob Pelinka, Bryant’s former agent
James is 4,148 points behind Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for the regular-season scoring lead, meaning he’ll have to play at least two more full seasons to reach that mark. Sunday was his 260th career playoff appearance, passing Derek Fisher for the all-time record. He was All-NBA for the 16th time this season, a record. He started his 16th consecutive All-Star Game this season, yet another record. More fans picked him as MVP this season than Giannis Antetokounmpo, who won the award.
There’s nothing left to prove on the basketball court.
Then again, there’s been nothing left to prove for a while now.
‘I think the story will be told how it’s supposed to be told and be written how it’s supposed to be written,’ James said. ‘But I don’t live my life thinking about legacy. What I do off the floor is what means more to me than what I do on the floor.’
What he’s done, on and off the floor, is how legends are defined.
‘I just think it is a true testament to his greatness to be able to sustain this type of success year in, year out,’ Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. ‘Different uniforms. New players and new teams going after him. It’s a real testament to that commitment. He’s seen everything. At this point in his career, it’s just about winning.’
LeBron James, who poured in 40 points in a losing effort on Friday, began Game 6 by setting another record in his illustrious career. Sunday’s game was the 260th of James’ playoff career, lifting him into sole possession of first place on the league’s postseason appearances list
Anthony Davis (left) and the Los Angeles Lakers are once again trying to clinch their 17th NBA title with a win over the Miami Heat, but unlike Friday’s Game 5, which seemed destined to be an anticlimactic finale to an uneven series, Sunday’s Game 6 begins with much more drama thanks to Jimmy Butler (right).
For the first time since Kobe Bryant’s fifth and final title a decade ago, the Lakers are NBA champions. James had 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists, and the Lakers beat the Miami Heat 106-93 on Sunday night to win the NBA Finals in six games.
Anthony Davis had 19 points and 15 rebounds for the Lakers, who dealt with the enormous anguish that followed the death of the iconic Bryant in January and all the challenges that came with leaving home for three months to play at Walt Disney World in a bubble designed to keep inhabitants safe from the coronavirus.
It would be, James predicted, the toughest title to ever win.
They made the clincher look easy. James won his fourth title, doing it with a third different franchise – and against the Heat franchise that showed him to to become a champion.
Bam Adebayo had 25 points and 10 rebounds for Miami, which got 12 points from Jimmy Butler – the player who, in his first Heat season, got the team back to title contention. Rajon Rondo scored 19 points for the Lakers.
The Los Angeles Lakers players and coaches celebrate after the Lakers defeated the Miami Heat 103-88 in Game 6
Game 6 was over by halftime, the Lakers taking a 64-36 lead into the break. The Heat never led and couldn’t shoot from anywhere: 35 percent from 2-point range in the half, 33 percent from 3-point range and even an uncharacteristic 42% from the line, not like any of it really mattered. The Lakers were getting everything they wanted and then some, outscoring Miami 36-16 in the second quarter and doing all that with James making just one shot in the period.
Rajon Rondo, now a two-time champion and the first to win rings as a player in both Boston and Los Angeles – the franchises now tied with 17 titles apiece – was 6 for 6 in the half, the first time he’d done that since November 2007. The Lakers´ lead was 46-32 with 5:00 left in the half, and they outscored Miami 18-4 from there until intermission.
Ball game. The 28-point halftime lead was the second-biggest in NBA Finals history, topped only by the Celtics leading the Lakers 79-49 on May 27, 1985.
True to form, the Heat – a No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference that finished with a losing record last season, a team that embraced the challenge of the bubble like none other – didn’t stop playing, not even when the deficit got to 36 in the third quarter.
A 23-8 run by Miami got the Heat to 90-69 with 8:37 left. But the outcome was never in doubt, and before long confetti was blasted into the air as the Lakers’ celebration formally and officially began.
James, who poured in 40 points in a losing effort on Friday, is appearing in his 260th playoff game, lifting him into sole possession of first place on the league’s postseason appearances list.
Now in his 17th season, James has reached the playoffs 14 times in 15 years. His teams in Cleveland, Miami and now Los Angeles have gone 14-0 in first-round series with James on the roster, 11-3 in second-round series and 10-1 in the conference-final round.
He had been tied with Derek Fisher for the top spot on the playoff list with 259.
To put James’ postseason longevity into perspective, consider that 260 games is the equivalent of 3.2 full regular seasons. And out of the 4,489 players to have appeared in an NBA regular-season contest, 63% did not (or in the case of active players, have not) gotten into 260 games.
That means James’ postseason career alone has included more games than most NBA players’ entire careers.
Game 6 also was the 55th NBA Finals game of James’ career, tying him with Jerry West for fourth-most in league history. Bill Russell played in 70, Sam Jones in 64 and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 56.
Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (R) and Miami Heat forward Andre Iguodala (L) fight for the ball in the first quarter
Jimmy Butler pictured before Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night at the league bubble near Orlando, Florida
LeBron James of the Lakers (left) and Miami’s Bam Adebayo both had early first-quarter dunks on Sunday night
LeBron James embraces former teammate Udonis Haslem following Game 6 of the NBA Finals outside Orlando on Sunday
For the second time this weekend, the Larry O’Brien Trophy (pictured) is courtside for another NBA Finals game between the Lakers and Heat, only unlike Friday, when LeBron James ‘s 40-point effort wasn’t quite enough to put away Jimmy Butler & Co., the momentum suddenly belongs to Miami
Just as most players have done throughout the NBA’s restart, the Lakers protested racism during the anthem on Sunday
REVEALED: LAKERS’ DANNY GREEN FACED DEATH THREATS AFTER MISSING POTENTIAL GAME WINNER
Lakers guard Danny Green revealed Sunday that he and his fiancee received death threats after he missed a shot that could have returned the NBA title to Los Angeles.
‘It’s just a basketball game at the end of the day and they’re taking out their emotions and they need someone to blame. It came down to the last play and of course I’m the easy target,’ said Green, an 11-year NBA veteran who has won championships with the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors.
Green had an open look from 25 feet in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Friday night, but his shot with 7.1 seconds left fell short. The Miami Heat won 111-108, and the Lakers lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 heading into Sunday night’s Game 6.
Danny Green (far left) had an open look from 25 feet in Game 5 of the NBA Finals on Friday night, but his shot with 7.1 seconds left fell short. The Miami Heat won 111-108, and the Lakers lead the best-of-seven series 3-2 heading into Sunday night’s Game 6
Danny Green (left) said his fiancee, Blair Bashen (right), alerted him to the threats made via social media
He said his fiancee, Blair Bashen, alerted him to the threats made via social media.
‘Didn’t faze me, didn’t care, just ignore it,’ Green said. ‘Those people’s opinions don’t matter to me. Only the people in the locker room and on this roster are the things that are relevant and that matter to me. If they’re still confident and encouraged and still believe in me and believe in us, that’s all that matters to me.’
Green scored eight points in 24 minutes on Friday night. On the season, he averaged 41.6 percent from 3-point range.
‘Basketball wise, it was a good look.’ Green said. ‘I had more time than I realized. I should’ve taken more time. I probably rushed it a little bit. I was a little off balance. But we got a good look. We had a second opportunity. Trying to come out and play back again. I’ll do anything to get that shot back, trust me. You’re going to make some. You’re going to miss some. It’s part of the game. I’ve been in that situation plenty of times. I’ve made some. I’ve missed some. Unfortunate it was for us to close out the series, that would’ve been great to win it.
‘But any person that plays sports and any person that plays basketball knows that it doesn’t come down to that last play. It’s never on one play.’
Members of the Miami Heat kneel as center Meyers Leonard stands before Game 6 of the NBA Finals inside the league bubble