Reliving the 2019-20 NBA Season
The 2019-20 NBA season was unlike any in history. The game we love was nearly brought to its knees by a global pandemic, only to rebound in incredible fashion. We need to credit the remarkable job done by commissioner Adam Silver and the rest of the staff that worked countless hours to make the Orlando Bubble not only possible, but a large success.
Along the way, the basketball itself prompted a rollercoaster of emotions. Let’s recap the main events that transpired throughout the season that was, both on and off the court.
Oct. 4, 2019 - Daryl Morey & China Fallout
Before this season even began, there was already drama within the NBA. This time was not from a player controversy, but from Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets.
Morey received heavy criticism and scrutiny for a tweet that supported the protests in Hong Kong. This led to China cutting ties with the NBA in many aspects including television viewership. By some estimates, the NBA’s market in China is worth $5 billion.
This was a huge blow to the league.
The first NBA game that legally aired in China was Game 5 of the NBA Finals, 12 months after the initial outrage. Not a bad first game back to be watching LeBron James and Jimmy Butler deliver punch after punch to secure a critical win.
Jan. 26, 2020: Death of Kobe Bryant
For NBA fans, the afternoon of January 26th, 2020 was one of the most devastating days in memory. NBA legend Kobe Bryant, 41, along with his daughter Gianna, 13, and seven other passengers were tragically killed in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. It was one of those moments where you remember what you were doing exactly when you heard the devastating news.
Games were still played that day, but the entire league mourned together in remembrance of an icon, artist, inspiration, and teacher.
This was, of course, one of the lasting memories of the season. From LeBron James and the old guard, to Jayson Tatum and Trae Young, Kobe’s shadow loomed large over the entire NBA community.
Mar. 11: Rudy Gobert tests positive for Coronavirus
The NBA and other institutions in the US were monitoring the on-going COVID situation closely. The situation moved quickly - already the Nets-Warriors game scheduled for Mar. 12 would be played without fans in San Francisco. Elsewhere in the country, though, games were slated to be played unabated.
On March 11th, just moments before the Thunder and Jazz were set to tip, the league came to a grinding halt. Jazz All-Star Rudy Gobert became the first professional athlete to (publically) test positive for COVID-19.
That night, Adam Silver made the difficult decision to pause the NBA season down indefinitely. It was not known if the season would resume or whether it would end without declaring a champion for the first time in history. However, the health and safety of the players, staff, and others involved remained the top priority for commissioner Silver.
Weeks passed as the US faced an unfolding COVID crisis. Behind the scenes, though, the NBA worked with its partners to come up with a plan that was safe and ethical.
Soon the league reconvened in Orlando. The 22 teams that were contending or in the playoff hunt returned to game action on July 30th with eight regular season seeding games followed by the playoffs in a normal best of seven fashion.
Aug. 14: Suns go 8-0 in the bubble, still miss the playoffs
The 22 teams invited to the Bubble (13 from the West and 9 from the East) were all teams that still had a chance to earn themselves a playoff spot. The Suns stunned everybody around the NBA, going undefeated during the seeding games in Orlando.
Still, Phoenix neither qualified for the postseason nor the play-in game. Would the Suns have made a splash in the playoffs either way? Not a chance.
The future is bright in Phoenix. This young and upcoming team put the whole league on notice through their inspired level of play.
Aug. 26: Bucks protest playoff game, trigger wildcat strike
The most important aspects of this season had little to do with Xs and Os. In the opening round of the playoffs, the Milwaukee Bucks looked to sit during their playoff game that day in an act to raise awareness of social injustice and police brutality in wake of the Jacob Blake shooting.
This was a movement that inspired other leagues to act as well. NFL teams cancelled their practices that day and MLB teams followed as well. The Bubble hung in the balance. The Bucks spoke to head government officials in Wisconsin as the NBPA scheduled emergency meetings.
The NBA sent a powerful message to the world that day. The resumption of play in no way undermines what the players were able to accomplish and the power they exerted.
Sept. 15: Nuggets come back from 3-1 deficit...twice
A 3-1 postseason lead is about as good as it gets. Only thirteen times has a team come back from such a deficit. The Nuggets did it not once, but twice this postseason.
In back-to-back rounds, the phenomenally resilient young and hungry Nuggets hung tight to advance despite overwhelming odds.
Denver was down 3-1 against both the Utah Jazz and the Los Angeles Clippers and managed to come back and win both series. Truly a sign of persistence and inspired play from their rising stars, Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray. The latter was especially impressive.
Denver is one of the rare teams that are built for both the present and the future with all of their young and developing talent. Don’t sleep on the Nuggets, they have proven that they can go toe-to-toe with anybody in the league.
Oct. 12: Lakers are crowned NBA champions
Finally, after an NBA season that spanned almost a full year, we have a long-awaited conclusion. The Los Angeles Lakers won their 17th title in franchise history, tying the Boston Celtics for most all-time.
LeBron James won his fourth championship and fourth Finals MVP, while his superstar teammate Anthony Davis won his first. Jeanie Buss became the first female owner to win an NBA championship, too.
Next season will be much tougher for the Lakers. The Nets and Warriors will be back at full strength, while teams such as the Clippers, Bucks, Celtics, Heat, and others will be loading up to make their own run at the coveted title.
When that next season begins is anyone’s guess. COVID will continue to set the tone for the league. Expect Adam Silver to consult with other leaders in professional sports, as well as health experts as he and the NBA front office figure out how to safely and responsibly kick off the 2020-21 season.