ORLANDO • LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers begin the final challenge in their bid to return to the summit of basketball today when they take on the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
A full 11 months after the 2019-2020 National Basketball Association (NBA) season tipped off, a marathon campaign plunged into crisis by Covid-19 and tumultuous social unrest finally reaches its climax in Orlando.
The fact that the season has managed to reach the home stretch is itself a triumph of sorts, a testament to assiduous planning by league officials to create a secure “bubble” at Disney World in Florida.
Since July, teams have been housed at the entertainment park in Orlando, largely sequestered from the outside world and the virus which has claimed more than 204,000 lives in America.
Even then, the season has not been immune from external forces. A month ago, the season threatened to unravel as a tide of anger against racial injustice prompted teams led by the Milwaukee Bucks to boycott games.
The Lakers, who will be chasing a record-equalling 17th NBA championship against Miami, were one of two teams who reportedly voted to abandon the season on Aug 26.
A little over one month later, and the 35-year-old James is now girding himself for a 10th appearance in an NBA Finals. It also marks the vindication of his decision in 2018 to leave the Cleveland Cavaliers for the Lakers, a faded superpower of the NBA who were floundering before his arrival.
Although James’ first season in Los Angeles ended in disappointment, with injury restricting his appearances and the team once again failing to make the play-offs, the bolstering of the squad with Anthony Davis last year returned the team to dominance.
“This is what I came here for,” he said on Saturday after the Lakers defeated the Denver Nuggets 4-1 to clinch the Western Conference championship.
Standing in the way of his bid for a fourth NBA championship are a Miami team happy to be cast in the role of underdogs.
The Heat have excelled through the play-offs with Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic outstanding, routing the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks 4-1 in the Eastern Conference semi-finals before accounting for the Boston Celtics 4-2.
NBA Finals LeBron James has reached in his 17-year career.
Butler, who joined Miami last year from the Philadelphia 76ers, says the team must neutralise James to have any chance against the Lakers.