The NBA season just ended and the Los Angeles Lakers find themselves at the center of the rumor mill, but it’s time to look back on the 2020-21 season as defending champions before free agency begins on Aug. 2. Although the Lakers didn’t repeat as champions, these were five moments that gave fans joy, highlight plays and memories that stand out.
5. Talen Horton-Tucker Mania
It feels like a while ago now, but on Dec. 11, 2020, the Lakers played their first preseason game against the Los Angeles Clippers and Talen Horton-Tucker was the talk of the town.
After winning a championship in the bubble, it naturally led to a considerable amount of excitement over the preseason. So when Horton-Tucker was the leading scorer for the Lakers with 19 points to go along with four assists, three steals and nine rebounds, Lakers Nation was getting pretty excited about his potential. However, in the next game two nights later, he scored 33 points on 11-of-17 shooting while grabbing 10 rebounds, dishing out four assists and nabbing four steals, officially setting off Lakers Nation like a pack of dynamite.
This was incredibly reflective of the post-championship hype as far as how engaged the Lakers’ fan base was. LeBron James even got in on the hype as he gave Horton-Tucker some of the highest praise a young player can get from an all-time great.
“First of all, obviously the basketball, we can see what he’s capable of doing. For him to be 20 years old, he hasn’t even scratched the surface yet of what he’s going to be,” James said at the time. “But the kid can flat-out play.
4. Anthony Davis Shows He’s Back
Many will remember this season for all of the injuries after the Lakers had the shortest offseason in pro sports history with only 71 days coming off their championship win. There were questions over whether Anthony Davis would be OK returning from injury, but on May 9 against the Phoenix Suns, he proved the doubters wrong.
Davis showed off why he is still one of the premier players in the league during this game as he literally did it all with a season-high 42 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, three steals and three blocks in the Lakers’ win. Davis was a monster in the paint with menacing and athletic finishes including his signature 180-alley-oop jams.
Davis was also showing out on the defensive end with an incredible backboard-pinning block. Last but not least, the big man had time to hit a 3-pointer and remind the league that not only is he one of the original unicorns, but he’s still in his prime and ready to remind everyone of it.
3. King James Turns Heads At Beginning Of Season
The beginning of this season was arguably the most fun part. Everyone had the Lakers predicted to repeat and there were nothing but good vibes and high expectations surrounding the team.
When there’s that much hype already, all you need is a good storyline to truly set things off. LeBron not only gave the Lakers a good storyline with his, “Washed King,” campaign of proving that he still had it, but was successful in proving so as he began Year 18.
James had a litany of memorable plays and performances including a season-high 46 points against his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers just over a month after the start of the season. One of the King’s most memorable plays included showing that he can still hit tough jumpers with a no-look 3-pointer against the Houston Rockets that he made after a bet with Dennis Schroder.
The 3-pointer set the Lakers bench into a frenzy and summed up how much fun they were having to start the season.
2. Play-In Tournament Game-Winner
Although the season was mired with injury for the Lakers, there was still considerable hype heading into the playoffs. The Lakers had fallen to the seventh seed, but it seemed as though the champs were ready to recapture their 2020 championship magic.
Not only that, but the Lakers were facing the Golden State Warriors in the second season of the Play-In Tournament. With James and Stephen Curry having faced each other in four consecutive NBA Finals matchups from 2015-2018, this gave the matchup even more excitement.
Both sides delivered as Curry put up 37 points and tied the game by sinking two clutch free throws with 1:23 remaining. Although it’s usually Curry hitting the deep threes, it was the Washed King’s turn to show off his ability to hit from downtown as he nailed the game-winning shot near the logo to put the Lakers up for good in a moment Lakers Nation will remember for a long time to come.
1. Championship Ring Ceremony
Did you really expect anything else? While there are many things that will define the 2020-21 season, primarily coronavirus (COVID-19) and injuries, it will always be a season in which the Lakers were defending champions everywhere they went.
It was the first ring ceremony in a decade for the Lakers as they kicked off Opening Night by receiving their championship rings with governor Jeanie Buss at the helm to kick off the introduction. While fans couldn’t be there in person, it was also a sign of the togetherness of Lakers fans to know that they were all watching it on TV simultaneously.
The Lakers also got creative by having the players’ families surprise them with videos before receiving their rings. It was unbelievably humanizing to see the families of all these players as well as the genuine joy and surprise on players’ faces.
There were plenty of special moments such as Rob Pelinka’s tribute to Kobe Bryant, someone who really brought the 2019-20 Lakers together, by throwing up two fingers on one hand and four on the other for number 24. This also included Davis having his first-ever championship ring introduced by his family.
Of course, the night wouldn’t be complete without the 2020 Finals MVP LeBron getting his ring as it was introduced and presented to him by his children, mother, uncles and students from his “I Promise” school. While the 2020 season will always be remembered for the start of a global pandemic, a revolutionary social justice movement and the death of Kobe Bryant, it will also be remembered for how the Lakers came together to win arguably their most meaningful championship in franchise history.