Los Angeles Lakers: winners in the bubble

How the Lakers built their championship team

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Photo courtesy of Nba.com

Emily Wilson, Sports Editor

Well, finally, there is no doubt about it: LeBron James is the best basketball player in the world and possibly of all time. Leading his Los Angeles Lakers to their seventeenth National Basketball Association (NBA) championship, James picked up a ring as well as his fourth Finals MVP. The Lakers were a championship favorite even before the 2019-2020 season started, and with arguably an easy path to the ring, they have met expectations as the bubble champions. 

Most notably, the Lakers had dominated in the 2000s with the incredible duo of Shaquille O’Neal and the late, great Kobe Bryant, winning a championship in 2000, 2001 and 2002. 

The passing of Bryant impacted many Lakers players, and some take up the notion that they won this championship for him. 

“Ever since the tragedy, all we wanted to do was do it for him,” Anthony “The Brow” Davis, Lakers forward, said in a postgame interview following their championship win. “We didn’t let him down.” 

In addition, fans have noticed similarities between Bryant’s path to the championship in 2009 and James’ this year. Both teams played the Houston Rockets in the second round of the playoffs and the Denver Nuggets in the third, as well as winning the ring in Orlando. Although the 2009 Lakers won by beating the Orlando Magic, and the 2020 Lakers won in the Orlando bubble, the similarities are there. In addition, James and Bryant were both Finals MVPS in their championship run. 

With this win, James and Lakers guard Danny Green go into the record books as two of four players who have won three championships with three different teams: James with the Miami Heat, the Cleveland Cavaliers and now the Lakers and Green with the San Antonio Spurs and Toronto Raptors and now the Lakers. 

It seems as if the Lakers were built to be a championship contender, and that they were. Their first move, it seems, was to sign James, arguably the best player in the world, in 2018 to a four-year, $154 million deal. Over the next couple of years, the Lakers acquired a myriad of free agents ranging from veterans such as Rajon Rondo, Green and Dwight Howard, to younger players like JaVale McGee and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Last year, in a blockbuster trade deal that arguably put the Lakers over the edge, they acquired first team All-NBA player Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans. Reportedly, Davis wanted a trade, and the Lakers, with their big-market style and monetary appeal, capitalized. 

A common criticism of this Lakers team is that all but two of their players, formerly undrafted rookie Alex Caruso and draft pick Kyle Kuzma, are signed. This “buy-a-team” strategy is not only unfair to smaller teams in less appealing cities (see: Utah Jazz, Denver Nuggets), it is an expensive yet janky way to get a ring. 

Another widespread criticism is the circumstances in which this championship was won. The NBA bubble, absent of fans and the energy they create, as well as home-court advantage, may or may not be easier for teams to win. NBA analyst Skip Bayless tweeted a myriad of times that this was “LeBron’s easiest path to a ring.” 

This is probably due to the “easy” teams that the Lakers faced. In the Western Conference Finals, they faced the Nuggets, a third-seeded team. All year, media and fans alike were hyping up the LA-LA battle for the Western Conference title against the Lakers and the Los Angeles Clippers, led by Kawhi Leonard (defending Finals MVP) and Paul George. Unfortunately for LA fans, the Nuggets squashed those hopes, although they subsequently lost to the Lakers. On the Eastern Conference side, the Heat, having knocked out third-seeded Boston Celtics and first-seeded Milwaukee Bucks (led by NBA MVP and Defensive Player of the year Giannis Antetokounmpo, no less), geared up to face the Los Angeles Lakers in the finals. 

The Heat were a fifth seed and were never expected to make it this far. Led by Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo, they were the little team that could. Make no mistake: the Heat are a good team, and were a formidable opponent against the Lakers. Perhaps in another world they could have won, one where two of their three leading scorers, Goran Dragić and Bam Adebayo, were not injured during the finals. Or maybe one where the referee’s calls favored the Heat instead of the James-led Lakers (let’s face it, who wants to call a foul against LeBron James?). Or maybe one where Davis was suspended for hitting Heat forward Jae Crowder across the face (which wasn’t even called a foul). But, alas, in this world, the Lakers were and are the better team. 

Congratulations to the Los Angeles Lakers, and to LeBron James and Anthony Davis, for coming together (and facing so much adversity) to win the 2020 NBA championship.