The longest NBA season ever has come down to a best-of-seven series between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat. While there are great matchups and storylines, a lot of the attention is focused on LeBron James’ pursuit of a fourth championship with his third team.
Win or lose, though, the potential real crowning moment to LeBron James’ brilliant career is in danger because of that longest NBA season ever.
A season with potential for LeBron James
When the Los Angeles Lakers tipped off against the Los Angeles Clippers last Oct. 22 to kick off the NBA season, optimism was running high. Blessed with being able to pair LeBron James with Anthony Davis over the full 82 games, it seemed a given that the Lakers would post their first winning season since 2013 and compete for their first title since going back-to-back in 2009 and ‘10.
What no one could have known at the time was that there was a pandemic on the way that would throw the entire world – forget about just the NBA or sports in general – into chaos. The coronavirus that first gripped parts of China in the late fall soon shut seemingly everything down.
The NBA was not immune, and the Lakers went from March 10 to July 30 between games. The league pulled together a well-conceived plan to resume in a bubble environment in Orlando, but the 20-week interruption has meant that the season will conclude almost a full calendar year after it started.
At least basketball fans can say they’re being rewarded with a championship series worth watching – the Lakers vs. the Miami Heat.
A great year for him even without the Olympics
James averaged 25.3 points a game, matching his lowest output since his rookie season. But he led the NBA in assists at 10.2 per game and also averaged 7.8 rebounds. Davis’ presence allowed coach Frank Vogel to limit James to career-low minutes in both the regular season and playoffs.
For his part, Davis contributed 26.1 points, 9.3 rebounds, and 2.1 blocks per game. He shot the ball a little bit less than in the past, got to the free-throw line more, and created problems for opponents at both ends of the court.
The Lakers followed their best regular-season winning percentage since 2009 with 4-1 series victories over the Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets, and Denver Nuggets to reach the NBA finals.
The crowning moment to LeBron James’ brilliant career is in danger
The NBA was the first of the major team sports to piece together a plan to return from the pandemic and then execute it. Other sports followed, but some major events were lost along the way – notably the NCAA Tournament, Wimbledon, and the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. On March 24, four months before the scheduled lighting of the flame, Tokyo organizers pushed back the Olympics to 2021.
That decision, coupled with the NBA’s plan for next season, imperils the participation of the league’s best players. That includes LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kevin Durant, and Kawhi Leonard, all of whom are on the current USA Basketball roster.
That’s because commissioner Adam Silver recently confirmed that the league does not anticipate starting the new NBA season, which would feature an 82-game schedule and fans at home games, until January.
The regular season would end in July, and the playoffs would extend into early September. That clashes with the new Tokyo Olympics dates of July 23-Aug. 8. As such, the conflict would seemingly take the stars from playoff teams out of the running to represent the United States.
That would include James, who won golds in 2008 and ’12. James probably cannot catch Michael Jordan and his six NBA titles, but a third Olympic gold would give him one more than Jordan and strengthen his case for being considered the greatest player ever.
All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference.