For Kobe Bryant: Gone but never forgotten

William Baik and Ryan Wu

Capping off the NBA’s socially distanced season, the Los Angeles Lakers have been crowned as the league’s victors after defeating the Miami Heat 106-93 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals.

The championship represents more than just a celebration to the Lakers—it was a memoriam to Kobe Bryant. The death of one of basketball’s most beloved stars last February especially shook Los Angeles, and so the Lakers’ homage to Bryant’s legacy put monumental weight behind their championship victory. The “Black Mamba” jersey, originally introduced in 2018, made appearances in Game 2 and Game 5 of the finals, the team’s way of honoring the memory of Bryant, a close friend of Lakers superstar Lebron James and an influential figure to others. Though Bryant’s death still stings, the trophy brings some closure to his tragic passing.

“We’re thinking about the Bryant family—Vanessa and the daughters. They’re with us, we’re with you guys,” James said after the Game 2 win. “We love you guys. And, hopefully, we’re making them proud by wearing these uniforms tonight.”

The Lakers’ victory in the Oct. 11 finals game gave them their 17th ring and tied the franchise with the Boston Celtics for most championships won in league history. James was named NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, averaging 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists while shooting 59% from the field over the six-game finals.

Though the finals pairing was expected to be uneven, the storyline behind the young underdog Heat team and all-star guard Jimmy Butler’s dominant game three and five performances made the finals a worthwhile and exciting watch. The Heat’s game six was a disappointing outing, but their run exemplified the threat they pose for other title contenders in future years. The composure and raw talent of their rookies combined with Butler’s defined leadership skills indicate future success.

In an effort to deter the spread of COVID-19, modifications were made to all parts of the game this season. This included a 100-page rulebook that adapted the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) health guidelines to the 2020 NBA Bubble, an isolated playoff zone in Orlando. The bubble’s safety precautions were headlined by its zero COVID-19 cases, an impressive feat in comparison to both football and baseball. Still, the bubble subjected athletes and employees to monumental changes during their stay, due to the mental strain it created.

“This was very challenging, and very difficult,” James said after Game 6. “It played with your mind, and it played with your body. You’re away from some of the things you’re so accustomed to that make you the professional you are.”

During the finals, James became all-time 2nd 3-pointers made during finals and 2nd in all-time playoff assists, while teammate Rajon Rondo surpassed NBA legends Larry Bird and Steve Nash for 6th in all-time playoff assists. As for the Heat, 20-year-old rookie phenom Tyler Herro became the youngest player to ever be in the finals’ starting lineup, and scored the most 3-pointers by a rookie in a finals appearance. Butler liberated himself from the “villain” label in the media and improved his legacy through his leadership and killer mentality.

Basketball’s time in the bubble was an impressive feat that managed to balance the difficulties of quarantining and delivering another year of playoff basketball. The NBA Finals is always a bittersweet moment for basketball fans, but this year’s ending also came with relief: relief from the players who were free to go home and relief for the fans, knowing that basketball would always be there.