Just about everyone has endured some form of hardship during the abnormal year that 2020 has been. From the ongoing pandemic, to the significant social justice movements, and capping all of that off with probably the most important election in modern history, everyone has experienced 2020 in a different way. While there is plenty of political unrest involving all of these issues, one thing that everyone can relate to is the loss of one of the most popular athletes in sport, Kobe Bryant, as well as his daughter Gianna.
On January 26, 2020, many woke up to news of a helicopter crash just outside of Calabasas, California. As news started to circulate, a breaking report from TMZ surfaced that former Los Angeles Laker Kobe Bryant was one of the passengers onboard. Within hours, the world learned that Kobe, his daughter Gianna, as well as seven other people who were traveling to a basketball tournament had tragically died.
This news came just one day after Lebron passed Kobe on the all time scoring list with 33,643 points. Bryant was at the game that night, and later tweeted congratulating Lebron for his accomplishment.
Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother ?? #33644
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) January 26, 2020
The NBA took some time off for players to grieve the loss, and many took to social media to share the impact that Bryant had on them. Lebron James shared an instagram post in memoriam of Bryant, stating, “I promise you I’ll continue your legacy man! You mean so much to us all here especially #LakerNation and it’s my responsibility to put this shit on my back and keep it going!! Please give me the strength from the heavens above and watch over me! I got US here!”
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I’m Not Ready but here I go. Man I sitting here trying to write something for this post but every time I try I begin crying again just thinking about you, niece Gigi and the friendship/bond/brotherhood we had! I literally just heard your voice Sunday morning before I left Philly to head back to LA. Didn’t think for one bit in a million years that would be the last conversation we’d have. WTF!! I’m heartbroken and devastated my brother!! ?????. Man I love you big bro. My heart goes to Vanessa and the kids. I promise you I’ll continue your legacy man! You mean so much to us all here especially #LakerNation?? and it’s my responsibility to put this shit on my back and keep it going!! Please give me the strength from the heavens above and watch over me! I got US here! There’s so much more I want to say but just can’t right now because I can’t get through it! Until we meet again my brother!! #Mamba4Life???? #Gigi4Life????
When the season resumed, teams chose to pay tribute to the lives lost in the crash in their own respective ways. Many teams chose to take a 24 second violation on their first possession, followed by an 8 second violation on the following play. Both 8 and 24 were numbers that Kobe wore during his 20 year career in the NBA. On top of this, the Los Angeles Lakers attended a funeral at their arena, the Staples Center, for those on board the helicopter.
This was just the beginning of the awful news to come out of 2020. During all of this, the COVID-19 pandemic was just beginning. Cases in Wuhan, China were extensive, and the virus was beginning to spread across the globe.
Jump ahead to March 11, 2020. The World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic and the world began to shut down. Two days later, President Trump declared the virus a National Emergency, the first since the H1N1 Influenza Pandemic declared by President Obama in 2009. Following the announcement, air travel was restricted, borders were closed, people began to be forced out of work, and entire economies began to see a dramatic decline.
On March 11, the NBA announced that the 2019-2020 season would be suspended for at least 30 days following a positive test from Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert. Following this announcement, the Jazz also reported a positive test from Donovan Mitchell, and the NBA season appeared to be a lost cause.
The NBA made a push to resume the season, and eventually came up with a plan to put 22 teams in a bubble at Walt Disney World in Orlando, starting on July 7. The league announced a complete plan for a restart, equipped with thousands of tests and poised for success. Games were set to begin July 30, giving NBA players and fans something to look forward to during the nearly four month hiatus from the game.
This is where the story ties back to the Lakers, who entered the Orlando bubble with the best record in the Western Conference. The team clinched the 1-seed in the Western Conference following a 116-108 win over the Jazz on August 3.
This was the first step on their quest for a title during a season that was dedicated to one of the best to ever wear purple and gold. The season was already significant for the organization because of the addition of Anthony Davis, who the team saw as the final piece that would solidify their lineup as one of the best in the league. AD would team up with Lebron James in hope of ending the Lakers ongoing playoff drought, dating back to 2013, when Los Angeles was swept in the first round by the San Antonio Spurs. (The Spurs went on to lose to the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals, who at the time were led by Lebron James.)
This season was different for the Lakers; a season full of emotion in dedicating a championship to the late Kobe Bryant, as well as a sense of urgency from Lebron to further improve his case as the best player of all time. As a tribute to Kobe, the team also decided to bring back their signature Black Mamba jerseys, which Kobe helped design, from two seasons prior for select games throughout their playoff run. (Interesting to note that the Lakers debuted this jersey on January 26, 2018, exactly two years to the day of Bryant’s tragic death.)
Once the playoff bracket was set, the team knew their path and began preparations for the battle ahead of them. In the first round, they went on to play the Portland Trailblazers, led by NBA All-Star point guard Damien Lillard. Many saw this series as a trap for the purple and gold because of a dominant performance by the Trailblazers, notably Damien Lillard, in the seeding games prior to the playoffs. The Lakers knew that there was speculation of a first-round exit, and this triggered them to have the outcome be anything but that.
The Lakers opened the series with a Game 1 loss by just 7 points, largely because of massive performances by Damien Lillard and CJ McCollum, the principal scoring duo for Portland. Despite this loss, LA bounced right back to win the next three consecutive games, giving them a commanding 3-1 lead in the seven game series.
Following their Game 4 win, the season was again in danger of ending, but this time it was not because of the pandemic. On August 23, the day before game four, news broke of the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin. Video of the shooting quickly spread over social media, predominantly through Twitter, leading to uproar from just about everyone, including NBA players.
The league took a two-day hiatus, citing that it was unfair to keep playing while there were such high levels of injustice going on in the country on a daily basis, especially towards minority communities. The Milwaukee Bucks were the first team to publicly announce their protest, being that Milwaukee is located about 45 minutes from Kenosha, and the rest of the teams that remained in the bubble followed suit.
Play resumed for the Lakers and Trailblazers on August 29, and Los Angeles closed out the series following a dominant 43-point performance from Anthony Davis. The Lakers had some time off as they waited for the series between Oklahoma City and Houston to end. The Rockets won the series in seven games, and thus the Lakers had their next opponent on their chase for a ring.
Kicking off the next series on September 4, the Lakers lost to Houston 112-97 on the back of a 36-point game from former league MVP James Harden. Sports media outlets went wild after this game, again doubting the Lakers playoff abilities, but this did not phase the team. The Lakers went on to win the next four games of the series, including a dominant 23-point win in Game 5.
Again, the Lakers had to wait for their next opponent, either the Denver Nuggets or the Los Angeles Clippers, because this series also went seven games. After six days off, the Lakers would take the court against an unlikely opponent, Denver, in the Western Conference finals.
The Nuggets were coming off an impressive series win despite being down 3-1 to the Clippers. Everyone knew that the Nuggets were now a legitimate opponent, but the question of the Nuggets being fatigued arose.
The Lakers won the first two games of the series, with the second game capped off by a game-winning 3-pointer by Anthony Davis as time expired. The Nuggets took Game 3 by way of a 32-point game from Jamal Murray, as well as exceptional production from his supporting cast, especially the bench. With the NBA Finals just two wins away, nothing was going to get in the way of the LakeShow. They dominated the last two games, including a triple-double from Lebron James to secure the Western Conference title.
The Lakers had a massive test ahead of them against the team that everyone would agree was the most surprising story of the bubble. The Miami Heat, the fifth-seed at the start of the playoffs, made their way through the Pacers (4-seed), Bucks (1-seed), and the Celtics (3-seed) to punch their ticket to the NBA Finals. Everyone knew the team was hot, and it was obvious that they wanted to continue their Cinderella story.
Game 1 was anything but ideal for the Heat. It ended up being the only game of the series in which they were at full strength. In the loss, Miami point guard Goran Dragic left in the second quarter with a foot injury, which was later determined to be a torn plantar fascia in his left foot. On top of this, All-Star center Bam Adebayo left in the third quarter following the re-aggravation of a shoulder injury from a previous series. This obviously jeopardized Miami’s ability to stop the Lakers, but Jimmy Butler, starting shooting guard/small forward for the Heat, was not going to let LA get off easily.
The Lakers won Game 2, taking a 2-0 series lead, but lost the third game of the series following a 40-point triple-double from Jimmy Butler. Going forward, the Lakers took Game 4, giving them a commanding 3-1 series lead and in position to win the 17th title for the organization with just one more win.
Moving on to Game 5, the Lakers brought out their Black Mamba jerseys for a fifth time in their playoff run. The team was 4-0 in these jerseys, and what better way to clinch a championship to cap off a season dedicated to Kobe than to be wearing jerseys designed after him.
The Heat weren’t going to let their season come to an end easily, especially with Jimmy Butler leading them. Butler recorded another triple-double, his second of the playoffs, and handed the Lakers another loss to bring the series to 3-2. In a game where just about everyone thought the Lakers were going to blow Miami out, they proved that they should not be taken lightly despite injuries to the core of their offensive efficiency.
The loss led the Lakers to Game 6, a pivotal game based on Miami’s performance in the previous matchup. The Lakers started the game hot, ending the first quarter with an 8-point lead, but knew there was still plenty of time for the Heat to turn the game around based on their notorious efficiency from behind the arc, especially throughout the playoffs. Los Angeles went on to dominate in the second quarter, going into halftime with a 64-36 lead.
The team never looked back, winning the game 106-93 and securing their status as the 2020 NBA Champions.
Lebron James captured his fourth NBA Championship, as well as his fourth NBA Finals MVP award. The Lakers also secured their 17th title for the organization, tying the Boston Celtics for the most all-time. While many would argue that this title is not as significant as a “non-bubble” title would have been, it is probably the most emotional championship the Lakers have ever won.
After the game, Anthony Davis was asked about the meaning that this title carries. “Ever since the tragedy, all we wanted to do was do it for him,” Davis said. “We didn’t let him down. It would’ve been great to do it last game in his jerseys, but it made us come out even more aggressive, even more powerful on both ends of the floor to make sure we closed it out tonight. I know he’s looking down on us proud of us. I know Vanessa’s proud of us, the organization’s proud of us. It means a lot to us. It’s a tough moment, man. He was a big brother to all of us.”
Are Bron and AD the best duo since Shaq and Kobe? pic.twitter.com/9Rj1CiBs8W
— LV (@LVVisualss) October 6, 2020
There was no better way to honor Kobe Bryant’s career than to dedicate a championship-winning season in his name. Los Angeles as a whole was devastated by his tragic passing, and to win a title the same year is nothing short of emotional.
Back in an interview from 2018, Kobe said, “We’ll be champions before you know it. And we’ll be laughing in the faces of all those Warriors fans who came out of nowhere.” In a year when the Lakers ended a seven year playoff drought and the Warriors finished with one of the worst records in the league, Kobe is up there looking down with nothing but a smile on his face.