The image of LeBron’s evolution from high school prodigy to Cavs rookie to Heatles hero to Cavs redeemer to Lakers savior is a reminder of the long and winding road that finally brought the King to the Los Angeles Lakers.
Sometimes it’s hard to smile and feel good about anything when everything around you seems to be falling apart and the world we used to know seems like a distant memory until you remember the Lakers are NBA champions. For die hard fans like me, the Lakers winning the championship in the bubble in October was better than even my Yankees winning a World Series. I can say with no exaggeration that it was the greatest championship ever.
With Covid-19 killing thousands every day, millions out of work and unable to support their families, and children going hungry, the idea something as trivial and unimportant as sports can be a blessing is almost inconceivable. But that’s what’s special about human fortitude and resilience, the ability see past disaster and dismay, to smile in the face of fate and misfortune, to persevere and believe things will get better and good times will return.
Sports has always been our safety valve, our escape vehicle when everyday life became suffocating. Whether an endless war or now a never ending pandemic, America has always been able to turn to sports for needed relief. That’s what millions of Lakers fans did less than three months ago as the purple and gold survived unprecedented challenges to win their 17th NBA championship in an arena without fans in the bubble in Orlando, Florida.
And don’t believe for a moment the Lakers finally winning that elusive 17th championship the same year we lost Kobe Bryant to tragedy was simple coincidence. The Lakers were inspired to win that title for Kobe Bryant.
Now, as we prepare to usher in a new year as the pandemic rages wild, the Lakers once again may be our only respite from the daily horrors Covid-19 continues to inflict on our families, friends, neighbors, and communities.
While the Lakers face another championship campaign transformed by the pandemic, it’s important we count our blessings as fans and ignore the never satisfied ‘what-have-you-done-for-me-lately’ Twitter fed universe. Don’t let the sluggish start to the season after the shortest offseason in professional sports history dim the bright reality that the Lakers had the best offseason and are even better than last season’s championship team.
Those blessings start with LeBron James, still at 36-years old the best player on the planet showing no signs of slowing down and unquestionably the catalyst behind the Lakers’ resurrection after ten years of disappointment. Earvin Johnson’s brief reign running the Lakers’ front office was definitely flawed but his free agent signing of LeBron James triggered the team’s revival and earned him the team’s gratitude and a 2020 championship ring.
After Magic Johnson and LeBron James, next on or list of Lakers’ blessings come owner Jeanie Buss and the late Kobe Bryant, the duo responsible for hiring, promoting, and trusting Rob Pelinka to run the team’s front office. When Rob took over, the Lakers had become a laughing stock in the media with daily stories regaling the dysfunction and incompetence of the front office and predicting a franchise destined for a doom and gloom future.
Jeanie’s decision to trust Kobe and empower Rob despite critics was the turning point as it took Pelinka just six months to steady the ship, trade for Anthony Davis, hire Frank Vogel as coach, and build a championship team. The rest is history: Vogel was the perfect coach, LeBron and AD the best superstar pairing in the league, and the supporting cast Pelinka assembled after being spurned by Kawhi the ideal roster to prevail in the bubble.
Watching the Lakers receive their championship rings last week in an empty Staples Center was a bittersweet reminder of the daunting challenge they overcame and the bright beacon of hope they shone in a world gone dark.
As we prepare to say goodbye to 2020, the Lakers face a challenge similar to what they confronted in the bubble but also different. While there are still no fans in the arenas, there’s also no bubble to protect teams from Covid-19. Players are left like the rest of us to create their own bubbles, to make smart decisions how to protect themselves and their teammates. How they handle this responsibility will determine their fate and the next NBA champion.
Like in the bubble, strong leadership, chemistry, culture, and commitment and a deeper and more talented roster than last season will give the Lakers an edge that should bode well for their chances or repeating as champions. While the new season started just 71 days after last season ended with a compressed and shortened to 72-games schedule and a raging pandemic, I’m smiling because the Lakers remain the odds on favorites to win again.
Frank Vogel is still the perfect coach, LeBron James and Anthony Davis are still the best two players, and the roster Rob Pelinka and the front office assembled a dramatic upgrade and the best and deepest in the league. While politics are still a mess, the states are struggling to vaccinate millions, and the economy years from full recovery, Lakers fans are again blessed by the ultimate distraction from everyday worries: a championship quest.
The old normal is long gone and nobody knows for sure what the new normal will end up being and we still keep hearing we’re not out of the woods and the next few months could well be the darkest yet to come. While the new year won’t end the pandemic, the vaccines promise light at the end of the tunnel and the Lakers’ quest for an 18th NBA championship will give us another chance to escape all the the gloom and celebrate.
So please build your own smart bubble and safely celebrate the new year by watching the Lakers continue their quest for their 18th NBA championship. That’s the way to be sure you’ll here in July when we hoist the banner.
Happy New Year, Lakerholics!
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