Editorial: A sweet Lakers championship in the most bitter of years

Lakers LeBron James and Dwight Howard embrace after their championship win.
Lakers LeBron James and Dwight Howard celebrate winning the NBA Championhip on Sunday in Orlando.
(Los Angeles Times)

Finally, something went right.

In a year of setbacks and trauma that just seems to get worse by the week, the Los Angeles Lakers — scarred by tragedy in January, then relegated to spending the season’s final three months in an isolation bubble the players could not leave — won the franchise’s 17th NBA championship Sunday, tying the Boston Celtics for the most titles of all time. The playoffs epitomized the craziness of 2020, with games played in arenas empty save for the teams and a small number of staffers and family members, masked and kept at a distance from one another. Yet the strange and uncomfortable circumstances only make the Lakers’ title more remarkable.

It’s just a shame that it wasn’t the archrival Celtics whom the Lakers beat in the finals in Orlando, Fla., but the Miami Heat, a resilient and scrappy squad who pushed the series to six games despite injuries to two of its key players.

Los Angeles is a city that revolves around stars, and it lost one of the biggest ones when erstwhile Laker Kobe Bryant died in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash that also claimed the lives of his 13-year-old daughter, Gigi, and seven other family friends, children as well as adults. It’s fitting that the Lakers dedicated this season to Bryant’s memory, and that two new stars cemented their places in the Laker constellation with their play in Orlando. One was LeBron James, who suffered through a lackluster, injury-marred season after arriving in 2018 before winning over a skeptical city this year, along with his fourth title and fourth NBA Finals MVP award. The other was new Laker Anthony Davis, a dominant and often unstoppable force at both ends of the court.


It wouldn’t be 2020, though, without a dark note in the light of victory. Sunday night, more than 1,000 people filled the streets around Staples Center to celebrate, casting aside concerns about COVID-19 — and, in many cases, their masks and their social distancing as well. In what has become an ugly routine for post-championship revelry, the raucous gathering was marred by episodes of vandalism and violence. Police officials said they declared an unlawful assembly and moved in to disperse the crowd only after “bottles, rocks and other projectiles” had been thrown at officers; some witnesses at the scene accused officers of overreacting and making matters worse. According to the Los Angeles Police Department, 76 people were arrested, eight officers were hurt, more than 30 buildings were damaged, and three people were hospitalized with injuries inflicted by the hard foam and plastic projectiles fired by the police.

After all we’ve been through this year — and particularly after weeks of protests triggered by the death of George Floyd, and the many questions raised about police crowd-control tactics — one might have hoped that everyone involved on both sides of the police lines Sunday night would have known how to keep a peaceful celebration peaceful. But we are clearly not there yet.

Maybe that’s the curse of 2020. But we may soon have other chances to show that we have, indeed, learned something this year: The Dodgers face the Atlanta Braves this week in a playoff series to determine who’ll go to the World Series, where another night of revelry awaits. And the Lakers reportedly want to hold a victory parade as soon as the COVID-19 pandemic allows, whenever that day may come. For everyone’s sake, let it be soon.