Will This Year’s NBA Champion Have an Asterisk?

Virtually all major sports have an asterisk in their record books, used to denote accomplishments that became tainted in some way. Barry Bonds’ single-season home run record serves as a great example in the light of his well-documented PED use. In the wake of COVID-19, calls for asterisks have already begun in the NBA. Many commentators believe the winner of this year’s championship deserves an asterisk.

Let’s look at the cases for and against an asterisk while investigating some other potential asterisks in NBA history.

The case for an asterisk concerning this year’s NBA champion

At least on the surface, the case for an asterisk is fairly simple. All 30 teams didn’t get the chance to play a full, 82 game season. As a result, it is impossible to say that the teams who ultimately make the playoffs in the 22-team bubble will be the same ones who would have if the regular season had played out according to its original schedule.

That argument was precisely the one that Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal brought up back in May. Not only did O’Neal argue that there would be an asterisk, he also pointed out that it was a question of respect. The winners of the title simply wouldn’t get any respect from their peers around the league. Because of this, O’Neal ultimately felt the NBA should suspend the season entirely.

ESPN basketball insider Adrian Wojnarowski disagreed with O’Neal about suspending the season. Wojnarowski argued that continuing the season was best for the sport. Yet as far as an asterisk went, Wojnarowski readily admitted, “There will be an asterisk next to this champion.”

The case against an asterisk

Elsewhere in the league are those who argue that the 2020 champions do not deserve the stigma of an asterisk. Those voices — including former players Jalen Rose and Richard Jefferson, as well as pundits like Stephen A. Smith — levy a variety of arguments against the asterisk.

To begin with, they point out that, even if the season had gone all 82 games, there likely wouldn’t have been any significant upsets in the standings. All of the teams that had a chance to get into the playoffs still do. Furthermore, all of those teams enter the Orlando playoff bubble with the exact same set of risks and disadvantages.

In other words, the playing field should remain just as level as it would have been if not for the coronavirus upset. ESPN Senior Writer Zach Lowe even made the case that the asterisk could end up filling a reverse role, acting as a “badge of honor” from a season where all teams faced a greater than usual challenge. According to Lowe, “winning this title could be a unique source of pride.”

Other potential asterisks in NBA history


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However history ends up viewing this season, it won’t be the only time where an asterisk was debated. The lockout seasons in 1998-99 and 2011-12 are both considered strong asterisk contenders, since in neither year did teams get a chance to play a full schedule of games.

Some argue that the 2001-02 playoffs deserve an asterisk, thanks to allegations of manipulation by officials. Those charges were raised by ex-referee Tim Donaghy. Although the league has always denied the charges, they remain a source of contention. Finally, many people think the 1993-94 season deserves an asterisk. That was the year Michael Jordan left the NBA to pursue a baseball career, thus altering the trajectory of the entire league.