With the Lakers winning their 17th NBA title tonight and finally catching the Celtics for most titles, I found myself struggling to celebrate. With 2020 being a year like no other, even something as great as a beloved sports team winning a championship is a strange thing to ponder.
The Last Laker Championship happened 10 years ago, just after my own child was born. The child who now says I am predictable, gets frustrated when I don’t understand what’s going on with her TV shows1, and is convinced I am always wrong about things. Times have changed!
Since I was born, the Lakers and Celtics have combined for 14 titles, with the Lakers winning 11 of them. Bill Simmons, obnoxious Celtic homer who lives right by the stereotype of the Boston-Bro who moves to LA, has been trying all week to invalidate the Minneapolis titles. Get out of here.
I look forward to hate-listening to his podcast in the morning as he lists the myriad of ways the Lakers got lucky.
Now, I have been waiting 32 years for another Dodgers World Series title. So if they could take the Lakers’ lead and finish out the Braves and Astros/Rays2.
That being said, I definitely feel much less celebratory!
Of course, the path to the 17th title started with the signing of Lebron James. There really was no goal short of a championship when he signed, but it seemed to be a long shot at first.
Last year was terrible, with Lebron injured, the “Baby Lakers” struggling, and the front office in shambles. 12 months later, they are NBA champions and Magic Johnson is tipping his cap to Rob Pelinka on Twitter.
When the Anthony Davis trade happened, they obviously gave up the farm. The future of the franchise was mortgaged when they sent some of their young core and draft picks. Of course, when you have the chance to trade for a superstar, it doesn’t really matter who you give up. I don’t really miss Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball. Best of luck to them in New Orleans.
The Lakers were already co-favorites with the Milwaukee Bucks and Los Angeles Clippers when everything changed January 26. The death of Kobe Bryant not only shook the world, but it seemed to make a title that much more important.
Then on March 11, the NBA shut down due to the coronavirus pandemic. Soon after, the entire sports world was on hiatus and it wasn’t clear there would be any competition going forward. There was some hope when the European soccer leagues were able to restart without fans. The NBA bubble was a resounding success, but perhaps a little weird as well.
Like many people, I have been cutting out all discretionary expenses this year, and I don’t have a television or a way to watch live sports. So following this championship via ESPN Gamecast has been really strange. When Anthony Davis hit the buzzer-beater against the Nuggets, people were texting me before the app showed the 3 points at the buzzer. In a socially distant and disconnected world, it was a truly unconnected feelings.
So today, one of my favorite sports teams won a championship. I haven’t celebrated it, because I am so far from the moment that I don’t know how to celebrate it. It doesn’t feel like a moment. I am sure the players in the NBA bubble know all too well how this feels.
We continue to speak of the future “return to normal,” if that is even possible. Yes, there will be fans in arenas at some point, and they won’t have to sit 6 feet apart with a mask. Kobe Bryant won’t be back with us. 225,000 Americans (and counting) won’t be with us either. Our lives are changed forever.
It makes for a rather odd moment to reflect on. I am glad the Lakers won the title tonight, but I am not sure how glad I really am. With time, I hope to enjoy this journey a little more once we are past it.
T.M. Schultze is a San Diego-based photographer, traveller, and writer. He writes, photographs, and draws things of the outdoors that have inspired humans for thousands of years. He co-authored the Photographer’s Guide to Joshua Tree Park which can be purchased here.