At the beginning of the 2019-20 NBA season, no one could have predicted the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat would meet each other in an empty arena in October in the Orlando bubble for the 2020 NBA finals. However, it truly is a fitting matchup for these times, and it only took a pandemic for us to figure it out.
A fascinating concept since its inception, the NBA bubble has now evolved from merely an infectious disease-proof miniworld to a will-testing cauldron of confinement and solitude where only the toughest teams can emerge victorious. Players have been isolated from their families and the outside world since mid-July, making it an endurance test only the mentally toughest can pass.
In the pre-COVID-19 bygone era of October 2019, star players and blockbuster trades may have seemed like sufficient ingredients to win championships, but 2020 has chewed up and spit out those archaic expectations. Instead, this season has reminded us that the old, simple adage — hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard — is truer than ever.
COVID-19 has not only affected the sports world but upended the lives of billions of people worldwide. Everyone has had to unleash our steadfastness and determination in different ways in order to live with the uncertainty of unemployment, virtual work and learning and periods of isolation.
The NBA Bubble has proven to be a microcosm of this new society. Despite the seeming luxury of the lives of players, who still earn millions of dollars while competing in a safe environment, they have also had to deal with unfortunate byproducts of the Bubble. No fans, prolonged separation from their families, and a feeling of insulation from external realities such as social justice movements all combine to make the Bubble an unforgiving environment where only the most battle-tested, gritty teams can succeed. Some simply did not have the mental wherewithal to thrive in the Orlando campus, and that showed in their play.
The Los Angeles Clippers, one of the NBA’s supposed Superteams, faced with injuries on its roster and players leaving and returning to the Bubble, struggled to recuperate. At one point, the team voted to cancel the remainder of the playoffs following the shooting of Jacob Blake. The team’s lack of resolve contributed to them throwing a 3-1 lead to the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Similarly, the Houston Rockets, faced with the loss of forward Danuel House Jr., who was kicked out of the Bubble after violating the league’s safety protocols, came up short against the Lakers in the Western Conference Semifinals.
Just as the Bubble whittled away championship contenders like the Clippers and Rockets, it also revealed the mettle of the Miami Heat, a team few thought could reach the Finals both when the season started and restarted
The Heat has spent decades building a culture of unparallelled hard work and effort, which ultimately prevailed in the Bubble. During these playoffs, the Heat, led by the young talents of shooting guard Tyler Herro and power forward Bam Adebayo, and the veteran leadership of small forward Jimmy Butler and point guard Goran Dragic, grinded its way through every series, perfectly countering every team they faced. Having to face off against the team with the best record in the NBA, the Milwaukee Bucks, Miami’s discipline prevailed, helping the team earn the opportunity to compete for a championship against their tireless counterparts from Los Angeles..
In a similar fashion, the Lakers proved to be as tough as they come, providing a reminder for anyone who forgot: LeBron James is still the king of the NBA. In the past 10 seasons, James has played in nine NBA Finals. In his 17th season, at age 35, one in which he and the entire league mourned the tragic death of all-time great and Laker legend, Kobe Bryant, coupled with all the aforementioned obstacles of the Bubble, James continues to display his Herculean mentality and physical fortitude.
Along with all the storylines this Finals matchup presents — James’ battle with his former team, his quest to cement his legacy with a 4th ring or a showdown between two of the cities most affected by COVID-19 — the Bubble’s Finals will put on full display the value most necessary for anyone to succeed during this unprecedented pandemic: resilience.
These finals will prove to be the ultimate trial of wills as we see who has enough conviction to become the proud champion of the NBA’s strangest season ever.
Christian Baldari is a freshman in the College. Bringing the Heat appears online every other week.