Column: Lakers championship would deserve a symbol, but not an asterisk

Lakers forward LeBron James celebrates a basket against the Phoenix Suns.
Lakers star LeBron James would have plenty of reason to celebrate if the team came back to win an NBA title this season.
(Matt York / Associated Press)

The NBA is trying to find a way to resume play this season, but some of the league’s former stars don’t support the idea.

“It’s too dangerous, it’s not safe, I don’t know how they can make it safe,” Charles Barkley said on “The Dan Le Batard Show.” “They should cancel the season.”

“Everybody go home, get healthy, come back next year,” Shaquille O’Neal told USA Today. “Just scrap the season.”

“I would be in favor of calling the season off,” Tracy McGrady told ESPN. “I just think there’s too much to go into having to start the season up.”


There’s nothing wrong with that sentiment, but O’Neal was wrong when he took his opinion one step further and said, “Any team that wins this year, there’s an asterisk. They’re not going to get the respect.”

Mbenga has long been committed to helping his native Congo, where COVID-19 is taking a toll. His sister recently died of the disease.

O’Neal didn’t seem to be taking a direct shot at the Lakers or any other team in position to win a championship, but his words surely struck a nerve with a lot of Lakers fans. The Lakers would be the No 1 seed in the Western Conference if the season began with the playoffs, so those words coming from one of the franchise’s all-time greats had to sting.

If the NBA were to re-start the season, play a few “tune-up” regular-season games and go right into the playoffs, the teams would have played more regular season games than they did during the lockout shortened 1998-99 season (50 games) and the lockout shortened 2011-12 season (66 games). The San Antonio Spurs in 1999 and the Miami Heat in 2012 didn’t get an asterisk next to their seasons and have generally garnered the same respect afforded to championship teams before and after them.

The issue for O’Neal and people who agree with him presumably is not with the regular season. In its first decade, when the league had eight teams, not 30, the seasons were 66 to 72 games, and no asterisks were attached to those early championships. Why? Because the 1950s was a different time. That’s exactly what we’re in right now — though calling this pandemic a “different time” would be a massive understatement.

Would a championship this season be different? Yes.

Unique? No doubt.

Tainted? Not at all.

Former Lakers star Shaquille O'Neal performs a song.
Former Lakers star Shaquille O’Neal believes whichever team wins the NBA title following the coronavirus shutdown this season should have an asterisk by its name in the record books.
(Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

In some instances, an asterisk is attached to a player or team that cheated to attain an unfair advantage against the competition, resulting in them winning a title or claiming a record they didn’t deserve. That would not be the case if the NBA resumed the season and carried out a full 16-team postseason in a “bubble” where all teams would play on a neutral court without fans.

If anything, a team such as the Lakers, which played 80% of the regular season and earned home-court advantage through the conference finals, would not get the benefits they earned as a top seed. Instead of playing in front of their home fans at Staples Center and forcing teams to travel to them, all the teams would be on an even playing field, from the basketball court to their hotel accommodations.

No one has been more adamant about the season resuming than LeBron James, who tweeted, “As soon as it’s safe we would like to finish our season. I’m ready and our team is ready. Nobody should be canceling anything.”


The Lakers’ three-peat effort derailed by the Dallas Mavericks, coach Phil Jackson departed the team, leaving Kobe Bryant to lead another reboot.

Less than four months ago, James stood at center court at Staples Center and offered a moving tribute after Kobe Bryant, his daughter, Gigi, and seven others were killed in a helicopter crash.

Basketball seemed so unimportant at the time, and even more so now. It would be totally understandable if the NBA season were canceled next month.

But if the season does resume and the Lakers somehow find a way to win a championship after everything they have gone through, O’Neal might be on to something with his asterisk idea.


There should be some kind of symbol attached to note the most challenging, improbable and surreal journey any team has endured on its way to a title.