The NBA Finals came to a bittersweet end this past Sunday. In Game 6 against the Miami Heat, the Los Angeles Lakers emerged victorious with a dominating 106–93 final score. In the surreal final moments of the night, we saw Dwight Howard make a rare 3-pointer, an already shirtless J.R. Smith run onto the court after the buzzer and confetti fall in front of virtual fans on the walls. Through the trials of the Bubble, LeBron won his fourth championship with his third team as well as the Finals MVP only for thousands of basketball fans on Twitter to say that the 2020 NBA season came with an asterisk. But the Bubble has always counted.
When the NBA resumed its season after a four-month hiatus, the world was still in the middle of a pandemic. Everyone’s 2020 has been disrupted and the lives of basketball players are no exception. They had their very own stressors, including leaving their family for months, worrying about the possible contraction of COVID-19 and working out a way to respond to the Black Lives Matter movement from inside the Bubble.
Although traveling from city to city to play under the pressure of a crowded stadium is a patented challenge for teams during the playoffs, the Bubble came with its own obstacles. Being tested daily and playing in almost a lab-like arena was new to every player. While the Bubble allowed many young players to play with less pressure, having no live fans wasn’t necessarily an advantage for all. Specifically for teams like the Lakers who are known to draw their energy from their loyal fans, adjusting to the bubble was a difficult transition. In the last few regular-season games, LeBron averaged 25.3 points per game — which is still great — but his performance on the court was noticeably worse than what we’re used to.
Addressing his on-court woes, “I miss the hell out of my family,” LeBron said. “So, it’s a huge challenge.”
The shooting of Jacob Blake and other recent attacks on the Black community also significantly affected the league.
Another argument against the 2020 championship is that the Lakers did not have to face “difficult” foes such as the Los Angeles Clippers or the Milwaukee Bucks. The Milwaukee Bucks were on a downwards streak before the hiatus began. Although Antetokounmpo performed well, averaging 26.7 points per game, 13.8 rebounds and 5.7 assists in the playoffs, he had no help on the court, and it was clear that Miami was the better team. As for the Clippers, the same could be said for Kawhi Leonard and company. Paul George and the rest of the bench were the reason why their team was knocked out, not the Bubble. Saying that LeBron had an easy road to the championship is not only disrespectful to the Lakers but also to their opponents like the Denver Nuggets and Miami Heat.
All in all, the unique nature of this basketball season did not diminish the meaning of the 2020 NBA championship ring and only added to the legacy of LeBron James and the Lakers team.