The 2020 Lakers’ championship feels a little bit more special

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AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill

After months of delay, numerous challenges and dozens of positive COVID-19 tests, the Lakers claimed their 17th championship with an unforgiving blowout of the Miami Heat. For months, a storied franchise had been striving for triumph over futility.

The Lakers’ 106-93 victory in which they once led by 36 appeared effortless as they completely destroyed them, obliterated them, demoralized them. Everything came so easy for them. They played really well, they came out hard, they battled tough and played smart in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Afterwards, there was a feeling of exhilaration that comes with a reprieve from the decade-long dry spell following a hard-fought and thrilling six games.

It was the Lakers erupting on the floor in celebration when it all came to a joyous end. They hugged and laughed and cried together. They stood on the court, with the trophy gleaming in their hands as they lifted the hardware. Overwhelmed with emotions, Jeanie Buss walked gently onto the court, in the vicinity of the players and their families, to accept the Larry O’Brien trophy. She became the first female controlling owner to lead an NBA franchise to a championship. It was the Lakers coach Frank Vogel who brilliantly, or famously reshaped the culture after a tumultuous season. His first signature win validated his hiring and set the Lakers on their path to an NBA title.

The 35-year-old LeBron James, meanwhile, reclaimed the spotlight on the grand stage, closing out his former team with a 28-point, 14-rebound, 10-assist night. It was certainly a landmark moment for not only James but Anthony Davis as well. Despite the barrage of criticism that follows James, no one can deny his greatness. He cemented his spot in Lakers’ history, vaulting himself to the top of the G.O.A.T discussion following his outstanding performance.

It was with the beauty with which he flashed his diverse skill set. He has done it so gracefully, so historically, that he has forged a testimony to the inevitability of his unforgettable greatness. It was easy to write James off as an iconic figure in the Los Angeles basketball community, but despite showing his age, he showed no steady decline in his production. James, widely regarded as the best player in the world, rightly claimed another Finals MVP, becoming the only player in history with three Finals MVPs with three different teams, and one of only two players with four or more. So as he ages, he’s gotten better.

If Davis wasn’t already considered the new face of the franchise, he is now. Whenever the Lakers needed him to show up, he was there and piled up astonishing numbers. He’s everything that you look for in a complete player. He made the Lakers a better team. That was on full display for all to see when he logged 19 points and 15 rebounds, posting another triple double.

Davis’ freakish length and athleticism made him a nightmare for the Heat to try to keep him off the glass. He established his dominance from the very beginning, using his size and physicality to have his way down low. In what would be the most celebrated moment of his career, he basked in the glow of his first championship while James reveled in jubilation of capturing his fourth ring, and third with a different team. He’s the only NBA player to ever do so.

The Lakers had a championship-quality duo in James and Davis that brought them back to immediacy and national relevance. The Lakers had proven to be a very good team when fully loaded with star power, starting with James and Davis. Now, 10 years later, the Lakers tie the Boston Celtics for the most NBA titles.

There were many big moments from a marathon of playoff basketball for Davis, but the biggest one was Game 2 of the Western Conference finals that saw him splash home the game-winning three to give the Lakers a victory over the Denver Nuggets. Davis’ partnership with James was a very deep connection. That’s why James is a great champion. Need proof? Look no further than Sunday night’s triumph.

Before leading the Lakers to a championship, he was already a polarizing figure for speaking out on social issues. But beliefs aside, he has conducted himself generously off the court and vowed to shoulder the responsibility for guiding his team through the complications of a pandemic. James, a leader of men, handled tragedy and distractions well, as the team mourned the untimely death of Kobe Bryant.

All this is why Davis improved his confidence, his positioning and thinking on the court to get to the next level. James’ profound understanding and veteran experience, having been there many times before, helped in Davis’ progression and with his tremendous growth. This year, which culminated in the franchise’s 17th title, James had shown a greater willingness than ever before to keep his promise by delivering a championship to the franchise and the city.

This is the Lakers, an iconic brand. This franchise has one of the richest histories in the league. So for James and Davis, it’s such an unbelievable feeling to be a part of this team, and it’s because this all happened under extraordinary and unusual circumstances. The Lakers were too good to come up short, which might be the reason their two superstars performed the way they did in Game 6.

There should not be an asterisk next to the Lakers. This championship should go down as the hardest to win in NBA history because of the adversity the teams faced when they had to adjust to the new normal. The players were confined mostly to their hotel rooms inside the NBA’s bubble at Walt Disney World. The Lakers were built for this, and a year after being mired in dysfunction that had plagued the franchise and made a complete mockery out of them, they elevated themselves to title-contending status on the backs of James and Davis.

This current core pieced together one of the greatest runs in Lakers’ history, one never to be forgotten. Outside of the core of James and Davis, the team was pretty solid with the presence of Rajon Rondo. He looked like the seasoned floor general that he is, scoring 19 points, while grabbing four rebounds and handing out four assists. The stellar play of the Lakers swarming defense thwarted the Heat, stymied the kind of run that Miami went on in Game 5 to force Sunday night’s game.

This was a series of runs, but this time the Lakers stormed out to an early lead, and the Heat never lead, thanks to the brilliant play of their superstars and even the supporting cast. At halftime, the Lakers were in full control, leading by 28 points, with a 64-36 lead. With the Heat chasing a double-digit deficit, the Lakers continued to pull ahead. And by the end of the third quarter, the game was pretty much over as reality started to sink in.

It was a perfect ending to an imperfect season. Such a feel good ending. The Lakers are champions once again.

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