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Los Angeles Lakers win NBA title, capping league's coronavirus bubble season

Now that the shortened and closed-door tournament played near Orlando is done, uncertainty for the 2020-21 season awaits.
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The dynamic duo of LeBron James and Anthony Davis lifted the Los Angeles Lakers to the franchise's 17th NBA title Sunday night, bringing a curtain on the most unusual season in league history.

James recorded a triple-double and Davis a double-double as Los Angeles cruised to a 106-93 victory over the Miami Heat, ending the best-of-seven championship series in six games.

The exhausted Heat, with little left in the tank after an emotional Game 5 victory on Friday, were lead by Bam Adebayo (25 points, 10 rebounds) and Jimmy Butler (12 points, 8 assists).

But it was no contest on Sunday, as Los Angeles raced to a 30-point lead late in the second quarter and coasted to victory.

It is the fourth championship for James, one of the world's best known and most respected basketball players, who completed his second season in Los Angeles. He led the Heat to titles in 2012 and 2013 and then brought an NBA championship to his hometown Cleveland Cavaliers in 2016.

After the game, James, 35, was honored with the Bill Russell NBA Finals MVP Award for the fourth time. He won the prestigious award in each of his previous three title runs.

Image: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Duncan Robinson
Los Angeles Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope shoots in front of Miami Heat guard Duncan Robinson during Game 6 of the NBA Finals in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, on SundayKim Klement / Reuters

In accepting the championship trophy, Lakers President Jeanie Buss reminded fans of the emotional highs and lows of 2020, including the Jan. 26 helicopter crash that killed basketball icon and beloved Laker Kobe Bryant.

"Let this trophy serve as a reminder of when we come together, believe in each other, incredible things can happen," Buss said during the trophy presentation.

Davis, a 2012 Olympic teammate of Bryant’s, said that heartbreaking accident weighed heavily on the team for months.

“Ever since the tragedy, all we wanted was to do it for him and we didn’t let him down,” Davis said. “I know he’s looking down on us, proud of us, I know (widow) Vanessa’s proud of us.”

By lifting the Larry O'Brien Trophy on Sunday, the Minneapolis/Los Angeles Lakers tied the Boston Celtics for the most titles by a single franchise, each with 17. The Chicago Bulls and the Philadelphia/Golden State Warriors have the next most championship banners, both with six.

The NBA normally crowns its champion in June, but this 74th league season played out like none other.

When the coronavirus pandemic struck the U.S. this year, no NBA games were played from March 12 to July 29.

The league restarted play behind closed doors on July 30 with players, referees, league officials and reporters covering the games sequestered at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex at the Walt Disney World Resort near Orlando, Florida.

Even though they were confined to Central Florida, news outside the bubble still had its impact on players. Performers with the WNBA, who were in a bubble in Bradenton, Florida, and the NBA both sat out games after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

The work stoppage ended when owners agreed to a host of community engagement efforts, most significantly to use basketball arenas and practice courts as polling stations for the Nov. 3 presidential election.

After accepting the MVP award, James said players will continue to fight for social justice, specifically police brutality and voter suppression.

“We know we all want to see better days, and when we leave here we got to continue to push that,” he said.

Image: Kyle Korver and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks
Kyle Korver and Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks during the reading of a statement to the media in Orlando, Fla., on Aug. 26.Jesse D. Garrabrant / NBAE via Getty Images

With the interrupted 2019-20 season now in the books, basketball fans can look forward to the 2020-21 campaign — although no schedule has been announced and it's not clear whether any games will be played in the final months of this year.

The NBA's late 2020-21 start, and plans for a full 82-game slate and a 16-team playoff, could preclude the world's best players from going to the coronavirus-delayed Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

The men's basketball tournament in Tokyo runs from July 25 to Aug. 7, and NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said recently that the league probably won't take a break to accommodate Olympic play.

"I think it's unlikely at the end of the day, that, if we start late, we would stop for the Olympics," Silver told NBA TV ahead of Game 2 of the Lakers-Heat series. "Because, as you know, it's not just a function of stopping for the period in which they're competing over, it will be in Tokyo. But they require a training camp. Then they require rest afterwards."

The Lakers' trophy-hoisting victory Sunday night came nearly two weeks after pro basketball's winter sport roommate, the NHL, also just completed a coronavirus-delayed season in similar fashion — playing inside bubbles in Edmonton and Toronto.

And like the NBA, the NHL has not announced its 2020-21 schedule yet and has all but conceded that games won't start until January.