The history books will show that in 2020 LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers earned the franchise’s 17th NBA title by defeating the Miami Heat in six games. All of those numbers and records, however, will never be able to accurately capture how difficult a season it was and how the team managed to triumph over turmoil and tragedy. Here’s a look back on what will be remembered as one of, if not the greatest NBA championship team not only for what the players achieved on the court, but what they had to endure in their journey to get there.
LA Lakers former superstar Kobe Bryant tragically dies
The year started off horribly for the LA Lakers and NBA family in late January. That’s when former Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others tragically died in a helicopter crash in California.
Bryant was the embodiment of the Lakers. He played his entire 20-year career in LA and guided the team to five NBA titles of his own, the last in 2010. But more than that, he was friends with the players, especially LeBron James. The pair had bonded in recent years. Bryant’s last tweet congratulated James on passing him on the NBA all-time scoring list.
“Keep growing the game and charting the path for the next,” Bryant wrote.
An emotional James responded later on Instagram. “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 s**t on my back and keep it going!!
Pandemic hits and shuts down the NBA and sports world
Just a little over a month after Kobe Bryant’s shocking death, the LA Lakers and the rest of the NBA would endure something no one in modern times had ever experienced when all sports had to shut down due to the expanding coronavirus pandemic.
The NBA schedule abruptly came to a halt on March 11. For the next three-plus months, the NBA players, coaches, and fans anxiously waited on guidance from the medical experts for a safe return to play. After the league office opted to go with a bubble approach, 22 teams were invited to complete the regular season in Orlando.
For two weeks, the remaining teams in Orlando battled for playoff position. The Lakers finished the season as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference, before embarking on their playoff run that would lead to the NBA crown.
LA Lakers and NBA respond to social injustice issues
While the players remained in lockdown mode during the late spring and a portion of the summer, they didn’t remain quiet. Many were active on social media, using their voices and expressing their outrage following the death of George Floyd. LeBron James was one of the most vocal.
Floyd’s death was just the beginning of an activist movement for the players and the NBA as a whole. When the players returned to action, they wore jerseys that featured certain phrases and causes related to social justice issues. They kneeled collectively before games during the national anthem.
In late August, following the shooting of Jacob Blake in Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their playoff game, and the other teams followed, sending a message of unity. After emotional discussions with the players looking to the league for support and actionable items in the future, the games resumed.
In the end, LeBron James and the LA Lakers navigated through the playoffs outlasting the Miami Heat in six games. An incredible season that started on October 22, 2019 ended on October 11, 2020. It was an NBA season that will not soon be forgotten for many reasons, but for the LA Lakers, it will be remembered as a season full of pain, uncertainty, and sadness that ended with the sweet taste of victory.