THE Los Angeles Lakers are the Champions of the 2019-2020 season of the United States National Basketball Association (NBA) annual tournament.
That's surely not news, by now?
Yes, I am fully aware of that. What's not so obvious from the bare news item is that in winning the championship, the Lakers' “weapon of mass destruction” had been a guy called LeBron James.
In leading the Lakers to win the championship, LeBron James has helped to lighten the immense darkness that enveloped the Lakers team and its fans, following the death, in a helicopter crash in January 2020, of 42-year-old Kobe Bryant. Bryant had been the invincible super-star in the Lakers team for 20 years before he retired in 2016.
Everyone had been wondering whether LeBron James would be able to fill the big room left empty in the Lakers stable by Kobe Bryant. Hence the import of this year's victory by the Lakers over the Miami Heat. The irony is that the Miami Heat is a team on which LeBron had once been the leading star.
35-year-old LeBron won the 2020 title for Lakers on Sunday 11 October 2020, with a “triple-double”, as Lakers beat Miami 106-93 in Game 6. James' personal accolades in the game were: 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists.
He was named “Finals MVP” [Most Valuable Player] – the fourth time in his career that he has achieved that.
James has now made more history and broken more records on NBA playoffs, than the legendary Michael Jordan. This has led one commentator to write that “while his career achievements [as a whole] continue to be debated against Michael Jordan’s, James is in rarefied air when it comes to the NBA Playoffs and Finals”.
[Here are] some of his most astonishing post-season feats: by collecting his fourth career Finals MVP, LeBron moves to outright second behind Jordan [six-four]. But he has now set the astonishing record of becoming the first player in NBA history to win it with three different teams. He previously did so with the – Miami Heat! (in 2012 and 2013) and the Denver Cavaliers (in 2016.)
James previously shared that record with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (who took the honour with both the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1970-71 season and the Lakers in 1984-85).
But teams featuring James have now played in eight consecutive NBA Finals (2011–2018) and ten finals in total. His Finals series record improves to 4-6 with this latest triumph.
Even before his latest achievement, LeBron James was being compared to the ancient Greek sportsmen, who were often looked upon as super-beings from the land of the gods, no less. In an article that managed to fuse the principles of physics, history and the classics with those of sports, entitled: “LeBron James Is a Sack of Melons”, a New York Times writer [5 July 2012] reminded the paper's readers that ancient literature is littered with sportsmania: “There comes a time in the life span of every culture when it becomes necessary to think obsessively about [a] LeBron James,” he wrote.
LeBron James was present in the psyche of the ancient Greeks “in the 5th century B.C, as Hercules: the most dominant athlete in the Olympic Games.” Eight hundred years later, LeBron James materialised again in the form of a “a gladiator” in the Roman Empire. [Spartacus perhaps?!]
It was now the turn of Americans, here in 21st-century America, (the writer concluded) to “think obsessively” about LeBron James....”now that the planets have at last aligned for James” .
Alas, Americans won't have a chance to congregate much to continue this discussion, thanks to Covid-19. But that the debate will be resumed as soon as Covid is vanquished, is not in doubt.
The Lakers won the championship as their 17th in the history of the game but the first with LeBron James as their centrepiece player. According to The New York Times, “no player was more brilliant [in the Game] than James.” After making his ninth trip to the finals in the past 10 seasons, and his 10th appearance over all, James had now won four championships with three franchises.
James powered victory, with his Lakers leading at one stage by as many
as 36 points. His 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists earned him a series average of 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists. He shot 59 percent from the field.
In Game 6, James was pushed by the Heat’s Jimmy Butler, who solidified his place as one of the league’s most dynamic two-way players by finishing with 35 points, 12 rebounds and 11 assists. But with the assistance of Anthony Davis – the other amazing super-star of the Lakers – Buttler was often neutralised.
Davis shone in his own right, though he had been nursing an ankle injury from earlier games. Davis ended with 19 points and 15 rebounds in the Lakers win.
But back to LeBron James: before he signed for Lakers as a free agent
in 2018, the team was in rough shape, having gone five seasons without making the playoffs. But James was drawn to the city of Los Angeles — he already owned a home there — and felt the allure of the Lakers franchise’s past grandeur. Last season, the Lakers were in the playoff hunt when James injured his groin in a win over the Golden State Warriors.
James missed a bunch of games then, and the Lakers landed back in the draft lottery. But amazingly, the team recovered and has now achieved what few would have predicted. Their victory is particularly significant because it gives greater influence in the game to LeBron James, who has emerged as a figure who is not scared (like others) to barge into the “political” arena by urging the NBA's administrators to use the popularity and power of the Game to try and put pressure on law enforcement agencies around the country to embrace the idea that “BLACK LIVES MATTER”.
Almost all NBA players now wear uniforms emblazoned with the BLACK LIVES MATTER slogan as a matter of course. And the idea of “taking the knee” (to demand justice for black Americans who have been mercilessly murdered without any justifiable cause by white racist police officers) has also caught on, both in the NBA and other major sports in the US.
Indeed, the day might not be long away when LeBron James and other hugely popular figures in American sports, would jettison the notion that they should not take part in active in politics, even as they contribute in such a significant manner to safeguard the psychological health of their nation.