Lakers dedicate NBA Finals victory to the late Kobe Bryant
LeBron James became first player to win NBA Finals MVP with three different teams
LeBron James celebrates with his Los Angeles Lakers teammates after winning the 2020 NBA Championship. Photograph: Getty Images
Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and seven others died in the crash near Los Angeles, sending shockwaves through the NBA world and beyond.
Bryant won five championships in 20 seasons with the Lakers and is considered one of the sport’s all-time greats.
“Ever since the tragedy, we wanted to do it for him, and we didn’t want to let him down,” Anthony Davis, who was Bryant’s team mate on the 2012 Olympic team, said after Sunday’s Game Six victory over the Miami Heat.
“I know he’s looking down on us and proud of us, I know (Bryant’s wife) Vanessa is proud of us, the organisation is proud of us. It means a lot to us. He was a big brother to all of us and we did this for him.”
Bryant was never far from the minds of the players during their more than three-month stay inside the NBA’s bio-secure bubble at Disney World in Florida.
Late in Sunday’s game the players could be heard breaking the huddle with the cry of “One, two, three, Mamba!” referring to Bryant’s nickname. Back in Los Angeles, fans poured out into the streets chanting “Kobe! Kobe!”
Team president Jeanie Buss acknowledged the bittersweet nature of celebrating the franchise’s first title since 2010 without Bryant, who took home the Finals MVP honours that year.
“To Lakers nation, we have been through a heartbreaking tragedy with the loss of our beloved Kobe Bryant and Gianna,” she said. “Let this trophy serve as a reminder of when we come together, believe in each other, incredible things can happen.”
LeBron James became the first player to win NBA Finals MVP honours with three different teams, and for LA Lakers coach Frank Vogel the Ohio native has cemented his status as the best player “the basketball universe has ever seen”.
James’s fourth NBA championship, which came after he led the Lakers to a 106-93 win over the Miami Heat in Game Six, also saw him take home his fourth Finals MVP award.
The 35-year-old James, who also won the award during two championship runs with Miami and one with Cleveland, averaged 29.8 points per game on 59 per cent shooting in the Finals while leading a defensive effort that handcuffed the Heat offense in Game Six.
While many still consider Jordan as the sport’s best player of all time, Vogel put James above him.
“He’s the greatest player the basketball universe has ever seen,” Vogel told reporters. “And if you think you know, you don’t know, okay, until you’re around him every day, you’re coaching him, you’re seeing his mind, you’re seeing his adjustments, seeing the way he leads the group.”
Lakers team mate Kyle Kuzma said James was a driving force on the court and off it.
“He’s one of the greatest leaders in sports, not just the NBA,” said Kuzma.
“He’s always rallying the troops, talking in group chats and making sure everybody’s fine. Holds everybody to a high standard. Makes everybody accountable. Everything you want in a leader.”
James had said bringing the Larry O’Brien trophy back to Los Angeles for the first time since 2010 was his sole focus when he joined in the summer of 2018 after the franchise had fallen on hard times.
“It means a lot to represent this franchise,” said James. “I told (Lakers president) Jeanie (Buss) when I came here that I was going to put this franchise back in the position where it belongs.
“We just want our respect. Rob (Pelinka) wants his respect, coach (Frank) Vogel wants his respect, our organisation wants its respect, Lakers nation wants its respect,” he said. “And I want my damn respect too.”
The Lakers’ sealed the best-of-seven title series 4-2, for a record-tying 17th NBA Championship.