By Sean Chase
On Sunday, the Los Angeles Lakers won the National Basketball Association’s Larry O’Brien trophy, beating the Miami Heat in six games. This is the 17th title in the illustrious history of their franchise.
Lebron James and Anthony Davis set the tone for the Lakers, defensively, throughout the series. For his valiant efforts, James was awarded his fourth Bill Russell NBA Finals Most Valuable Player trophy.
During the trophy ceremony James exuded joy, celebrating with his teammates and even calling his mother, Gloria Marie James, from the locker room floor. After the festivities, however, his tone and focus had shifted elsewhere, seemingly, towards another title run.
Immediately after the dust had settled, reporters were allowed to speak with the players of both teams. James was the first to make his feelings known, as he told reporters after the game: “We just want our respect, Rob (Pelinka) wants his respect, Coach (Frank) Vogel wants his respect, our organization wants they respect, Laker nation want they respect, and I want my damn respect, too.”
This title means a great deal for a team that had already experienced tremendous hardships this season, before COVID fully gripped the world, when Kobe and Gianna Bryant tragically passed away in a helicopter crash in February of this year.
“Kobe’s voice is always in my head, every day, every minute,” said Rob Pelinka, General Manager of the Lakers, to the media after the game. “Winning this championship doesn’t take away the sting of the loss, but what it does is it helps us add to their legacy. Kobe and Gianna’s legacy will last forever. It will impact lives around the world in positive ways. The moment couldn’t be any more special to do that for them.”
After COVID upended the previously picturesque NBA landscape, on March 11, people became desperate for a return to play. The NBA led by Commissioner Adam Silver devised a radical plan to appease the wishes of the public, create a bubble.
Once logistical hurdles were cleared, the bubble became a reality with players arriving in Florida, at the Disney Sports Complex, on June 9. With the deciding game of the finals wrapping up on Oct. 11, the Lakers endured the mental pressure of being locked down, away from their families, for four straight months.
“This was very challenging and difficult,” said James, to ESPN reporters after the game. “It played with your mind. It played with your body. You’re away from some of the things that you’re so accustomed to, to make you be the professional that you are.”
While there were bumps in the road, at first, initial television ratings reached pre-COVID levels, and it seemed like the mission was accomplished, they had brought sports back to the ravenous public safely. Just days after the purple and yellow confetti had covered the hardwood of the bubble, reports began surfacing that showed a steady decline in viewership for the NBA Final, ultimately hitting lows unseen since 2003.
The change in the overall sports landscape has forced the NBA to compete with other major American sports, in the midst of their seasons, in a way that it has never had to before the pandemic. For the first time ever, the NBA finals lined up with the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup finals, and the start of the National Football League and Major League Baseball seasons.
Over saturation of the mainstream sports market is the most probable explanation for the historic drop in ratings seen by the NBA this season. However, one must ask, if this is some sort of backlash manifesting due to the recent changes that allowed players to wear social justice messages on the back of their jerseys.
While it is too early to tell, for sure, if this drop in ratings is a sign of things to come for Commissioner Silver and the NBA, or merely an unforeseen outcome of an oversaturated sports market struggling to continue play, in the midst of a pandemic.