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NBA

It Won’t Happen This Way Ever Again

LAKE BUENA VISTA, FLORIDA - OCTOBER 11: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates with Quinn Cook #28 of the Los Angeles Lakers and teammates after winning the 2020 NBA Championship in Game Six of the 2020 NBA Finals at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on October 11, 2020 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images)
Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

Legacies are for retirees. Until then, even the greatest among us can do something homicidal, merely criminal, immoral, amoral or just plain stupid to ruin the biography.

Thus, we will allow you all to chew over the melodramas grafting themselves onto the Los Angeles Lakers’ latest and indisputably weirdest championship—all the Kobe and LeBron and Buss Family and NBA royalty and the fact that Rajon Rondo was the dagger that kept on daggering. That a series that so many thought could be epic ended with such a forceful meh (a 13-point laugher that felt like a 33-point laugher), that even the most spirited what-ifs still led you to the obvious conclusion that one-seeds are meant to beat five-seeds, that Jimmy Butler could do a lot of things but couldn’t do the everything part all of the time, and that finally, L. R. James, Sr., is still the foot that kicks all the rest of contemporary basketball’s ass.

But let’s be honest. I think we already knew that about James, and winning a championship in the Bizarro World, while impressive in its own way, does not change the central fact that he was already, is now, and will surely be this generation’s Jordan, and this generation’s Abdul-Jabbar, and Chamberlain, and Mikan.

As for the rest of the bubble, the league and its cadaverous guidepost Adam Silver are going to get all the credit for the bubble not collapsing into the cauldron of deep-fried sick that is Florida under Daft Ron DeSantis when it in fact was the players who maintained discipline despite the nearly crushing psychological dreadfulness of the bubble itself. This was not nearly the most inspiring NBA playoffs ever (in fact, it finishes a decided sixth of the last six), but it was the most onerous and least fun, and nothing says it more than the fact that the player strike that will be most important development to come from it. One more Laker championship and one more affirmation of James’ James-hood is just spray-painting a gold bar gold.

Your task, then, is to endure the narrative festival of Lakeriana to come from these two months because that will be the plot point with which the basketball intelligentsia will beat us about the face, neck and groin between now and Opening Night on Valentine’s Day. If you like the Lakers, you’ll still end up wondering why your blood sugar spikes at odd hours. If you don’t, you’ll hate them all the more for the nauseating repetition of the story and the acolytes and sycophants who tell it.

Now in fairness, I can’t say for certain that all the members of the Laker Hagiography Irregulars are actually sycophants, but that’s only because I haven’t met them all.

But the value of this year is that it won’t, can’t be replicated. That the team with the most Finals appearances won isn’t new, and neither is LeBron James. In all, the NBA, the sport that has always been most addicted to same-old-same-old, delivered more same-old same-old but in a brand-new way. When normal returns, we’ll miss the abnormal but we’ll never want to do it again. The season was a letdown in the end because it was so relentlessly exhausting and gave us an old-world title and an old-timey hero.

But the new stuff will last longer and mean more because nothing changed in the 71 days of games in Disney’s Fortress of Tedium but the three-day window when there were no games at all. LeBron James was already this good, and the Lakers already had half the history of the league, but the most important development was still the three days when the players recognized that they still needed to touch the chaotic and frightening outside world and the outside world needed to touch them. On those three days, the bubble that preserved the business failed, and for all the right reasons.