In the far distant future, when the basketball archeologists start digging for DNA to make sense of the 2020 NBA Finals, what do you suppose they will discover and determine?
For starters, they’ll be amazed to know that a world champion was crowned after arriving at Disney World rather than before. And studies will show such activity occurred in autumn and not summertime when the Larry O’Brien trophy is normally awarded.
Mainly, though, there will be compelling and unimpeachable proof that the Los Angeles Lakers had glory restored at the same place and on the same night LeBron James saw his greatness continue.
“Laker Nation wants their respect, and I want my damn respect, too,” said the player who claimed his fourth title and also a fourth Finals MVP as a parting gift.
This was a joint celebration of a storied franchise and an age-defying superstar, who needed each other, who took a victory lap together with a gallop after winning the series four games to two over the Miami Heat. The Lakers had missed the playoffs entirely the last six years while LeBron watched them from home last summer after a groin injury got the best of him in his first season in LA.
But then: Purple and gold confetti fell almost as rapidly as the Heat in a Game 6 that was a LeBron-infused Laker demolition almost from tipoff; they were up 30 before halftime. The team and their leader gave it their all Sunday in a smashing performance, and the only thing the Lakers left was no doubt. That’s 17 titles now for the Lakers, tying the Celtics for the NBA record, and LeBron’s third with as many teams; no all-time great has ever done that.
What made this dynamic between team and star work is that LeBron felt an important responsibility to see the Lakers through, and vice versa.
“Once he put that trust in us, we had to deliver,” Lakers president Rob Pelinka said. “There was no other option. We’re grateful to put him in that position to get his fourth championship.”
Once again, on the highest stage, LeBron was a tornado. He averaged 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds, 8.5 assists and shot 58 percent in the series. He never had a poor game or showed any slippage or made a grave error. His consistency and high level was remarkable for someone at age 35 and in his 17th season. He also stayed sturdy, a testament to the body that refused to fail him despite all those years of tread wear.
He previously won titles twice in Miami with a pair of stars, then hauled Cleveland to its first championship ever, then arrived in Los Angeles two summers ago bringing hope and heightened expectations that were a bit unrealistic initially. He didn’t have Anthony Davis then, and after getting injured, he didn’t have the playoffs, either. That slippage struck a nerve within LeBron, and also an untapped source of motivation that pushed him this far.
“It fueled me because no matter what I’ve done in my career, there was rumblings of doubt comparing me to the history of the game,” he said.
As for this latest championship, he and the Lakers did it under unusual circumstances, spending almost four months inside a security-sealed environment caused by a pandemic that delayed the season from March to July. But the journey never wavered — the Lakers lost only five games in the playoffs — and LeBron’s resolve only magnified and solidified in this bubble.
“Going into the unknown” is how he described the Disney trip from start to finish, adding: “Once I got inside here, I said ‘This is my mission. This is why I’m here.’ I wanted to keep my energy in the right place.”
He knew what was at stake, the task of restoring shine to the Lakers while pushing his own legend beyond yet another boundary. This was accomplished with a nightly display of leading by example and occasionally dropping triple-doubles and delivering defining plays in each round.