The Los Angeles Lakers are back in the NBA Finals, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
It’s a strange world that we live in right now, filled with uncertainty. Normalcy has been harder to find than Waldo, as every facet of our lives has been affected by a deadly pandemic. We have also dealt with painful societal issues as well as the massive loss of Kobe Bryant.
And yet, as the world around us shifts towards an uncertain future, the return of the Lakers to the NBA Finals offers the small comfort of something familiar. It’s been 10 years since they have reached the pinnacle, filled with the kind of struggles the NBA’s glamor franchise isn’t accustomed to.
It all started, really, with basketball reasons. Then-NBA commissioner David Stern, may he rest in peace, decided in 2011 to veto a trade that would have sent star guard Chris Paul to the Lakers to play alongside Kobe Bryant.
From there, the franchise appeared to be hexed, as their plans, even the ones that appeared fool-proof, crumbled and collapsed.
Dwight Howard’s first stint in Los Angeles was a disaster and he spurned the Lakers in free agency. Bryant’s Achilles tore, Steve Nash broke his leg and later hurt himself carrying luggage. Eventually, the franchise found themselves below the playoff line, where they stayed for six seasons.
Their inability to win did offer the silver lining of high draft picks, and the Lakers were fortunate that they were able to land three consecutive No. 2 overall selections. However, they never found the superstar they were searching for.
D’Angelo Russell’s maturity was questioned, Brandon Ingram needed time to adapt to the NBA’s speed and physicality, and Lonzo Ball never became the fast-break savant Magic Johnson thought he would be.
Meanwhile, the front office saw several major changes as things shifted behind the scenes. Some familiar faces, like Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss, were ousted. Johnson arrived in an instant, then left just as suddenly.
What it all added up to is that Lakers basketball; which had been the gold standard for the NBA, was anything but. Even the arrival of LeBron James, arguably the greatest basketball player of all-time, couldn’t end the Lakers’ playoff drought.
The 2019-20 season changed all that. The Lakers gave up most of their young assets to trade for Anthony Davis, then surrounded their new star duo with veterans who could help them win. Team chemistry, which was something foreign to the Lakers during the rebuilding years, instantly clicked.
Finally, everyone on the team had a clearly-defined role and knew that if they did their job well, that an NBA championship was attainable. On and off the court, everything clicked.
As team camaraderie blossomed, it became evident that, for the first time in years, the Lakers were having fun playing basketball together. Fast breaks, once the trademark of the “Showtime” Lakers of the 1980s, even became synonymous with the team’s brand of basketball again.
With James taking on the role of Johnson, the Lakers have left opponents in the dust as they fly up the court with devastating efficiency.
The team rallied around each other to cope with the Bryant tragedy, and now play with the goal of honoring him. So far, they have done a terrific job of that, and remain unbeaten in the playoffs when wearing the “Black Mamba” jerseys that Bryant designed.
Through every challenge, the Lakers have found ways to adapt and overcome. They have made a habit of excellence, and in the process, reminded everyone what Lakers basketball is all about.
In a world where everything feels so heavy, basketball is fun again. If we’ve learned anything from the last six years of futility, it’s to take the time to enjoy these moments.
The future remains uncertain, but with the Lakers back in the NBA Finals, things are looking a little brighter.
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