Photo by Checubus via Shutterstock
The Los Angeles Laker organization fulfilled a promise to the city of Los Angeles, to the Vanessa Bryant family, and to the entire Laker nation––a promise that took months to complete.
A tumultuous journey full of doubt, pressure, and even a pandemic. Sacrifices were made to accomplish the mission. Sacrifices were made to confine themselves to a bubble in Orlando and to navigate political issues in China, which hurt the NBA’s bottom-line.
The NBA season started one year ago by kicking off a global tour that landed the popular teams in China. China is the NBA’s second market and it is known for its large appetite for basketball and it’s a major consumer of sneakers, jerseys, and other apparel, which gives the NBA a large market cap.
Then, the unthinkable occurred. The general manager of the Houston Rockets, Darryl Morey, made Twitter comments that were not perceived well by the host country’s politicians, which led to the NBA returning due to the fact that China refused to display their games on their large networks. This created a firestorm. One person’s actions clearly did not reflect the rest of the players and the organization, but the damage was done.
On Oct. 8, 2019, China pulled the plug on its broadcast capabilities and its relationship with the NBA. Massive sponsorship deals were canceled which equaled almost 400 million dollars in revenue loss. This led to poor ratings in the NBA finals as well. It was not until game 5 of this year’s finals where China finally broadcasted the NBA finals after cooler heads finally prevailed. We will have to wait and see if the ratings received a boost from these last two games.
Let’s shift to the beginning of 2020 where the league’s talent was on display. Teams were making their power moves to the top. Free agents were signed. Trades were realized. A series of moves had shifted the Lakers from the favorites to win the title, to a slight afterthought because the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Clippers were winning games in style. Yes, the other team that shares a building in the heart of Los Angeles is now in the mix for an NBA title with two stars of their own. The Bucks had the reigning MVP and they were the best shooting team in the league. The Lakers were building confidence and chemistry when tragedy struck that rocked the league at its epicenter. The loss of Laker Kobe Bryant and his daughter, Gianna, and 7 others died in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26 as they were headed to a sports tournament representing his Mamba Academy. The public memorial was on Feb 24, 2020. The duo’s player numbers were etched on jerseys throughout this season which gave the competition more meaning.
Anthony Davis was mentored by Kobe Bryant in the 2012 Olympic Games where the United States expectedly dominated along with LeBron James. Kobe took Anthony Davis, also known as AD, under his wing and taught him the meaning of Mamba Mentality. This became the match that lit a fire underneath the Lakers and started a legendary run. Even though Mamba was out, he was not forgotten as LeBron famously quoted. The Lakers made their run by defeating the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Clippers in back to back which made most analysts and reporters believe that the Lakers can indeed win the title.
Then, the pandemic took its grip around the nation and affected the NBA on March 11, 2020. The Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert was the first COVID-19 patient. The NBA immediately suspended its season and sports as the world proceeded to eventually perform the same steps due to the spread of the virus. Then, he mocked the virus by touching every microphone and recorder within view. It appeared that he did not care about the severity as his own star teammates tested positive and experienced symptoms. The league was forced to shut down and look into medical research and the safety of its players, coaches, and organization.
In July 2020, the NBA formally announced their plan to move to Orlando to Disney’s World of Sports in which they essentially created a bubble. This was a formidable plan developed and designed from the experts and medical providers. No fans would be allowed in the bubble. A campus where they could actually eat, sleep, and train every single day. It had a March Madness vibe to it. The games were intense.
They had to play to win it. In the bubble, we saw the Phoenix Suns go undefeated in eight games to try to get a playoff spot in which they were a half game out of the ninth spot. The Memphis Grizzles with the rookie of the year, Ja Morant met the surging Portland Trail Blazers for the final eighth position in the Western Conference Playoffs. We saw Damian Lillard light the scoreboard with multiple 40-point games and become the Bubble MVP. Portland was the Lakers’ opponent, but the experts even said that the Lakers would lose the series in the first round.
Panic ensued as the Portland Trail Blazers’ three-headed monster of Damian Lillard, C.J. McCollum, and Carmelo Anthony upset the Lakers in game 1. It was the seed of doubt that was on display. A titanic shift happened where the head coach, Frank Vogel, made the Lakers accountable on the defensive end and challenged the leaders to force Damian Lillard away from hitting the timely clutch 40-foot logo shots and make him drive into the teeth of the defense in the paint.
However, in the middle of the series, the league postponed games after the players chose to be a united front and focus on the social justice turmoil in the country. In the midst of a pandemic, the NBA players staged a powerful boycott led first by the Milwaukee Bucks. The players could not leave the bubble to protest and this was the first time since 1961 where the great Bill Russell sat out a game to protest racial injustice.
The players were baffled attempting to figure out what to do, but the efforts were clear. The player’s association president, Chris Paul of the Oklahoma City Thunder, along with LeBron, Kawhi, Dame, and other elder statesmen met with Doc Rivers and other powerful figureheads to decide on their next steps. The Bucks boycotted first, then the rest of the teams soon followed. The statement was read following the shooting of Jacob Blake who was shot in the back several times by a police officer. The players wanted immediate action. They called for change which led to the boycott to focus on these efforts. The owners of the teams backed their players and moves were made. They spoke out. They called their congressman and locally elected officials to create an environment for change. Then, more actions were taken. The players wore the city and organization on the front of their jersey, but the back of the jersey can display approved social justice messages in their own language or native tongue. The league took it a step further and added Black Lives Matter to the court to send a clear message. The entire NBA stood against racism and social injustice. They restarted the games after their points were heard and the Lakers went on to shut down Portland to win the series.
The Lakers next matchup was with the Houston Rockets and their red hot three-point shooting. The Rockets’ formidable pair of Russell Westbrook and James Harden did indeed give the Lakers some trouble where their weakness was on display with the ability to make three pointers. The answer to stopping the Rockets was again on the defensive end. They chased the shooters from the three point line and forced the action near the basket. However, it was AD who had to turn on his own inner mamba and dominate the paint. LeBron James’ timely scoring, leadership, and intelligence lead them to send the Rockets out of the bubble.
At this time, the world was waiting on the Clippers to beat the Nuggets to get the Western Conference Heavyweight matchup with the Lakers for the battle of the city. However, this was not realized due to team chemistry issues with the Clippers and the coaching staff. A bubble mishap occurred with Lou Williams who has been affectionately called Lemon Pepper Lou and Montrezl Harrell dealt with a family issue which brought him back slightly out of shape and conditioning. However, the Clippers had finals MVP Kwahi Leonard and perennial All-Star Paul George in which the owner spent a lot of money to acquire these talents of the organization. The Clippers got clipped and sent home by the Denver Nuggets who defeated the Utah Jazz and the Clippers by coming back from back to back 3 games to 1 series leads. This has never been done in history.
So, there was no battle of L.A., but the job was not finished. Nothing was accomplished. The Lakers sent the Nuggets out of the bubble in 5 games with a dominant effort by LeBron James and Anthony Davis, but Jammal Murray was red hot having dropped multiple 50 point games. It took a defensive clinic to shut down Denver, which was realized in 5 games once again.
Reminder: Kobe has 5 championships. 5 was the number. The Los Angeles Lakers won the Western Conference Title which was the 32nd title. This was not enough as LeBron and the organization chanted what Kobe stated many years ago: the Job is not finished.
The league awards were announced. The Lakers did not win a single individual award from the league. The league MVP, defensive player of the year, coach of the year, and executive of the year went to other teams as the Laker staff found themselves in a familiar position. Kobe only won one MVP which is astounding to most, considering the accolades and accomplishments. This is how you achieve Mamba Mentality. They are Lakers. No individual accomplishment will suffice for not winning the championship. LeBron stated that the Laker fans do not care about what you did before you became a Laker, it is about what you do once you don the uniform of a Laker on.
He is absolutely right. A city full of stars, glitz, glamour, and status wants gold. The Larry O’Brien trophy must be won in order to be considered a Laker great. It is the test that stood with time. From Wilt Chamberlain to Jerry West to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Magic Johnson to Shaquille O’Neal to Kobe himself, no one can escape that lure. You have to win as a Laker. The pressure is mounting.
Here comes the Miami Heat. LeBron’s former team where he won two championships are also in the finals led by Jimmy Butler and the tenacious culture of grit, sweat, hard work, and grind. Jimmy Butler forced a game six where most people including me declared a gentleman’s sweep of five games at best.
Jimmy earned respect by dropping a 40 point triple double for the win and defeated the Lakers with the Kobe inspired Mamba Mentality jerseys on. This pressure was at the absolute highest in game six. Frank Vogel hit the Heat with the uppercut of an adjustment for the closeout game by placing Anthony Davis at the center position and adding an unsung hero, Alex Caruso also known as the Carushow, into the starting lineup. The Lakers punched first in game six and never looked back. At one point, the lead swelled up to 30 points. The Lakers dominated from start to finish which gave them their 17th title tying them for the most in NBA history, but they have won a title in every single decade of the league’s existence making them the greatest organization ever.
Here we are. The promise to the Lakers Nation was fulfilled. The 10 year drought is over. Experimental trades, terrible free agent signings, and bad business decisions led to the drought along with locker room distractions and lack of team chemistry. It took a chess move to bring Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans over to the Lakers by trading Brandon Ingram, the league’s most improved player, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart, and a slew of considerations. Lavar Ball, the father of Lonzo, was quoted by saying because he traded his son, the Lakers were never going to win another title. Well, it was determined to be false. Now, only one question remained, who would win finals MVP? It became evident in the series that AD had to be aggressive on both ends of the floor for the Lakers to win, however, LeBron played well almost every single game which netted him his fourth finals’ MVP.
Kobe is probably smiling down at this time. They honored the Bryant Family well by winning it for Kobe. Using the mantra, 1, 2, 3, Mamba on every huddle, they were reminded of the standard of excellence. They got it done. No excuses. Social injustice, bubble, racism, social media, political firestorm, mental health, and injuries were not going to deter the Lakers from their goal. The fans will serenade the streets of Los Angeles to the tune of Nipsey Hussle, YG, and 2Pac. No parades due to the pandemic and state-wide lockdown. However, Orange and Los Angeles County will be buzzing. The gold standard is the standard. Promise fulfilled. Job finished.