By Doug Smith
Monday October 12, 2020
Led by the all-star duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis, the Los Angeles Lakers won the NBA championship for the first time since 2010 — beating the Miami Heat in six. DOUGLAS P. DEFELICE / GETTY IMAGES
The strangest, longest, most disjointed season in NBA history is now over.
And LeBron James is the king once again.
James — winner of his fourth NBA Finals most valuable player award — led the Los Angeles Lakers to the 17th title in franchise history Sunday night in a rollicking, never-in-doubt 106-93 victory over the Miami Heat.
James was playing in the 10th championship series of his 17-season career and his first with the Lakers, and was dominant as the Lakers just rolled over the physically and emotionally spent Heat.
“I told Jeannie (Buss, the team’s owner) when I came here that I was going to put this franchise back in the position where it belongs,” James said during the trophy presentation. “For me to be a part of such a historical franchise is an unbelievable feeling.
“We just want our respect. Rob (Pelinka, Lakers GM) wants his respect. Coach (Frank) Vogel wants his respect … and I want my damn respect, too.”
James finished with 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists for his 11th career NBA Finals triple-double and 28th in the playoffs. He checked out for the last time with about 90 seconds left in the fourth quarter to be well-rested for the post-game celebration.
“One thing I can do is to commit to the game, put myself and my body and my mind to be in a position to be available to my teammates,” James said. “I just hope I make my guys proud.”
Now having played an NBA-record 260 playoff games — the equivalent of about 3 1/2 full regular seasons — the 35-year-old James has won championships with three different teams and has won the Finals MVP award each time he’s lifted the Larry O’Brien Trophy.
He joins Lakers teammate Danny Green (San Antonio, Toronto, Lakers), Robert Horry (San Antonio, Houston, Lakers) and John Salley (Detroit, Chicago, Lakers) as champions with three teams.
The latest championship — in his second season after joining the Lakers for what some thought would be the denouement of his illustrious career — will certainly ignite more conversation about where James ranks among the all-time greats of the sport. In many ways that’s just noise, because comparing players at different positions in different eras and wildly different styles of play is an exercise in futility. There is no denying, however, that James is the best and most dominant player of this era, and shows no signs of slowing down.
The Lakers’ celebration could actually have started at halftime. They rode a clinical 36-16 second quarter to a 28-point lead, the second-largest halftime margin in an NBA Finals game.
The game ends a season that survived a four-month pandemic-induced hiatus and more than three months of bubble life on the Disney grounds just outside Orlando.
It was a monumental undertaking by the league and the 22 teams that played in Florida, one that savaged some economic order for a multibillion-dollar worldwide industry.
And it was a particularly tumultuous season for the Lakers, who lost iconic Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant along with his daughter and seven others in a January helicopter crash. That was an emotional stunner that lingers around the team to this day.
“We have a PhD in adversity, I’ll tell you that,” Vogel said during the on-court trophy presentation.
The Heat just didn’t have the energy needed to stay with the Los Angeles juggernaut. After improbably stretching the series to six games behind the brilliance of Jimmy Butler, they had nothing in the tank — and even an emotional boost from the return of injured Goran Dragic did nothing for them.
Butler, who had posted triple-doubles in two of the previous three games, could not summon the necessary energy and was nowhere near the level he’d been at, finishing with only 12 points on 10 field-goal attempts.
“It’s hard, because it was special to us,” Butler said. “We really enjoyed playing with one another, really enjoyed being around one another, and I just appreciate and I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to do that.
“Obviously nobody likes to lose. I think we fought all year long, up and downs, stayed together. That’s what it’s all about.”
But Butler’s performance throughout the series was inspiring and revelatory.
“Jimmy has a superstar competitive spirit to him, and if you try to evaluate him or put him in a conventional box of how you view a modern-day basketball player you’re totally missing the boat on J.B.,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s a leader, he’s a winner … just a supreme competitor.”
A switch worked to near perfection for the Lakers, who took Dwight Howard out of the starting lineup in favour of Alex Caruso. The move shifted Anthony Davis to centre and his defensive presence in the paint changed the game dramatically. Miami could not get anywhere near the rim, and the Heat’s outside shooting was not nearly good enough.
Davis finished with 19 points and 15 rebounds, and was part of what Vogel called a “defensive masterpiece.”