The NBA’s historic season in “The Bubble” ended on Sunday, Oct. 11 as the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Miami Heat in game 6, 116-98. LeBron James won the Bill Russel NBA Finals MVP Award for the fourth time in his career in as many championship wins. The 2019-2020 NBA season started Oct. 22, 2019, and 355 days later the Lakers captured their record-tying 17th franchise NBA title.
After missing the playoffs last season, the Lakers overhauled the roster to build around the four-time NBA MVP, LeBron James. The most notable acquisition, Anthony Davis, complimented James in a way that propelled the Lakers to the best record in the Western Conference and the top seed in the playoffs. The tandem averaged a combined 54.8 points per game in the finals and placed first and second in total postseason points. The last duo to accomplish the latter feat was Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant in 2002.
The Lakers endured a season not only damaged by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic but also under the heavy shadow of Kobe Bryant’s death. The news of the helicopter crash on Jan. 26 that claimed the lives of Kobe and eight others devastated the sports world and temporarily halted the Lakers’ season. The Lakers resumed playing five days later, and James addressed the fans at the Staples Center.
“I want to continue along with my teammates, to continue his legacy,” James said. “Not only for this year, but as long as we can play the game of basketball that we love, because that’s what Kobe Bryant would want.”
From that tragic day on, destiny favored the Los Angeles Lakers. In a tribute to Kobe and his daughter, Gianna Bryant, the Lakers adorned the Kobe-inspired “Black Mamba” uniforms throughout the season as well as in games two and five of the NBA Finals.
“Ever since the tragedy, all we wanted to do was do it for him, and we didn’t let him down,” said Anthony Davis immediately following the Lakers’ championship victory.
The COVID-19 pandemic jeopardized the remainder of the 2019-2020 NBA season until the NBA took an unprecedented stand against the coronavirus. After suspending the NBA season on March 12, 22 teams entered the NBA Bubble at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. The NBA created an extensive, 113-page book of rules all players and staff followed so the season could continue. Namely, only approved personnel could enter the bubble after a quarantine period and negative COVID-19 tests. The league set up mask mandates and sanitization procedures as well. For the duration of the NBA restart and playoffs, the league reported zero positive cases for the coronavirus. However, the restart came with sacrifice. Players left their families and daily routines to live in a hotel for months, sequestered from the rest of the world.
“We’re here. We were sacrificing a little over three months,” Davis said in an interview with ESPN following game 6 of the Finals. “You call your family and they say, ‘No, you’re not coming home. Go win this championship and then come home.’”
There is no current plan for what the 2020-2021 season will look like. The league might play the whole season in a bubble, but with the NFL and now MLB allowing fans at games, the NBA hopes to return to a version of basketball fans are used to.
“Our goal next season is to play 82 games in home arenas in front of fans,” said NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum in an interview with The Washington Post.
The NBA moved the date of the draft to Nov. 18, but even that is subject to change.
“There’s a little asterisk next to it, saying it possibly could change, but that date has been essentially locked in,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in an interview with The Washington Post.