The job is finished.
The Los Angeles Lakers are NBA champions, bringing home a record-tying 17th title in a season that was unlike any other.
It was over a year ago that the 2019-20 Lakers roster was assembled with LeBron James and Anthony Davis at its core. They were surrounded by role players that the Lakers hoped would amplify their impact, defense-first veterans who could provide the stars with the support they needed to win the last game of the season.
While Davis arriving via trade to join James would push the Lakers into championship contention, no one could have predicted the hardships the team would have to endure on their quest for basketball immortality.
Perhaps the start of the season should have been an indication of the troubled seas ahead, as a single tweet from Houston Rockets general manager Darryl Morey set off an international incident with China, and the Lakers were smack in the middle of it.
The hits just kept coming from there. The tragic loss of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna, and seven other people in a helicopter crash in January left the team and basketball world in shock.
They adopted a “win for Kobe” mentality, but just when it looked like everything was falling into place in March, with wins coming over the Milwaukee Bucks and L.A. Clippers, the plug was pulled on the entire league as a pandemic took hold.
Eventually, the season was restarted in a bubble at Disney World in Orlando, requiring that players be isolated from their families and the world in order to finish the season. Teams sat in limbo for months, unsure if the season would continue, then had to endure the mental grind of the bubble environment.
For the Lakers, the stoppage and eventual restart were especially damaging, as not only would their momentum need to be recaptured but they also lost home-court advantage, which they would have had at least through the Western Conference playoffs.
Instead, every team would play on the same courts, and while the branding and virtual fans would change to try to create a “home” atmosphere, it wasn’t the same.
Life in the bubble became a marathon of endurance and mental fortitude, and through it all, the Lakers’ resolve held firm. Just like they have done since the beginning, the team rallied around each other, believing that together they were at their strongest.
Perhaps it’s fitting that in a season that required so much sacrifice in order to get to the end, it was the team whose players were most willing to give something up for the greater good that was left standing at the end.
Dwight Howard exceeded all expectations as he transitioned from former superstar to role player, coming off the bench for the Lakers and doing whatever it took to help the team win. JaVale McGee, while never a star on Howard’s level, did the same.
Protect the rim, rebound, box out, set screens. The duo committed themselves to do the dirty work all season, then saw their minutes fluctuate wildly based on matchups in the playoffs. They didn’t complain, because they believed all of it would lead to exactly where they are now.
The same can be said for a number of Lakers.
Jared Dudley came to Los Angeles understanding that minutes would be sparse and his role was more about what he could do for the team off the court than on it. Alex Caruso dug in on defense and did all the little things that help but receive little recognition on a box score.
Kyle Kuzma, who started for the Lakers the previous season and watched a number of his peers put up big numbers on bad teams, bought into becoming the best all-around player he could as a reserve.
Even Davis, who prefers to play power forward instead of center, put his body through the grind of being the primary force in the middle when it was time to win.
From Day 1, the mantra heard from the Lakers was “be a star in your role,” and they embraced perhaps like no other team has. Through ups and downs, wins and losses, tragedy and a pandemic, at the end of the day, the Lakers kept coming back to their greatest strength.
Their ability to rely on each other.
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