The Los Angeles Lakers are NBA champions, defeating the Miami Heat 106-93 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals on Sunday night, winning the best-of-seven series four games to two.
It’s the 17th title for the franchise, tying the Lakers with the Boston Celtics for the most all time in NBA history.
This was the Lakers’ first NBA Finals appearance since 2010, when the late Kobe Bryant won his fifth and final NBA title. Bryant, along with his daughter Gianna and seven others, died in a helicopter crash January 26.
It’s the fourth championship for LeBron James, in his 10th NBA Finals. James previously won two titles with the Heat (2012 and 2013) and the Cleveland Cavaliers (2016). On Sunday, he became the NBA’s all-time leader in playoff games played, at 260. He finished the night with a triple-double: 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists. He was named NBA Finals MVP, the fourth time he has received this honor.
James is the first player in NBA history to earn NBA Finals MVP with three different teams. Only Michael Jordan has more NBA Finals MVP awards, with six.
“For me to be a part of such a historical franchise is an unbelievable feeling, not only for myself but for my teammates, for the organization, for the coaches, for the trainers, everybody that’s here,” James said on the court. “We just want our respect. (Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager) Rob (Pelinka) wants his respect. (Lakers head) coach (Frank) Vogel wants his respect. Our organization wants their respect. Laker nation wants their respect. And I want my damn respect, too.”
This capped an NBA season – which ends just outside of Orlando, Florida – unlike any other, as widespread protests over racial injustice fanned out across the US during the coronavirus pandemic and with a contentious presidential election just weeks away. While leading his team to a title, James has been a leader among the sport’s most influential players in setting an agenda during the social justice movement.
Pandemic halts NBA season in March after Gobert’s positive test
On March 11, Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz tested positive for Covid-19, causing the NBA to postpone that night’s game between the Jazz and Thunder in Oklahoma City. It led to a suspension of league play – and a ripple effect around the sports landscape.
In June, around the time when the NBA Finals normally would be taking place, the league announced the season would resume at the end of July at the Walt Disney World Resort, using an isolated campus to hold games, practices and residency for 22 of the league’s 30 teams to determine who would reach the playoffs.
The plan overall was a success, with no major outbreaks of Covid-19 inside the bubble.
Even with the challenges of the pandemic, players around the league have remained vocal in their demands for systemic justice. The words “Black Lives Matter” were painted on the courts in Florida. When the season resumed, almost all players – with many coaches and referees joining them – kneeled during the National Anthem.
Then came August 23.
Bucks take a stand, leading to games called off across US sports
Several states away from the bubble, Jacob Blake, a Black man, was shot by police seven times in the back as he tried to enter his vehicle in Kenosha, Wisconsin. His shooting at the time had become the latest incident to prompt outrage nationwide over racial injustice and police brutality.
What came next in the NBA led to almost a complete halt of sports in the US.
On August 26, the Milwaukee Bucks decided to not play in their playoff game against the Orlando Magic. It caused a cascading effect, as athletes acted in solidarity with the Bucks’ players.
NBA playoff games were postponed. So were games in the WNBA, Major League Baseball and Major League Soccer. Tennis superstar Naomi Osaka announced on social media that she would not play in the semifinals of the Western & Southern Open, a tune-up ahead of the US Open, that following day, leading to the tournament pausing play for a day.
“We know that being here has given us the strength and the numbers. … That’s a byproduct of us being here, of being able to use this platform to be able to talk about everything that’s going on outside of the court,” James said Thursday of the social justice movement with players inside the NBA bubble.
“All the social injustice and the voter suppression and so many other things that are just going on. The police brutality and so on and so on and so on. Us being here and having the opportunity to talk about these issues and continuing to understand that this world is not just about basketball. Even though we live in a small piece of the game of basketball, there are so many bigger things and so many greater things going on. If you can make an impact or you can make a change or you can have a vision, it just helps out so much, not only in your community but all over the world.”
Next season’s start date not yet known
Ultimately, the NBA playoffs resumed August 29, culminating in an NBA Finals between the favored Lakers, who were the top seed in the Western Conference, and a surprise in the fifth-seeded Heat out of the Eastern Conference.
Miami, after sweeping the Indiana Pacers in the first round of the playoffs, knocked out the favorite in the East, the top-seeded Bucks, in the second round. The Heat went on to beat the Celtics to reach the finals.
Despite being without Goran Dragic (torn plantar fascia in his left foot) and Bam Adebayo (neck strain) for part of this series, the Heat made it competitive, with Jimmy Butler leading the way. Acquired by the Heat from the Philadelphia 76ers as part of a four-team trade on July 6, 2019, Butler became the first player in NBA Finals history to post multiple 35-point triple-doubles in the same series, scoring 40 points in Game 3 and 35 in Game 5.
But by Game 6, even though Butler was joined by Adebayo and Dragic, the Heat looked exhausted. Butler had just 12 points Sunday, while Adebayo led the Heat with 25 points, 10 rebounds and five assists.
At this point, it’s unknown when the 2020-2021 NBA season will begin, though league commissioner Adam Silver said last month his “best guess” is it won’t start until January 2021.