LeBron James was good to his word.
In what was the most difficult season in the history of the Los Angeles Lakers, James led the charge that brought the franchise its 17th NBA championship -- and his fourth. Through it all he was a rock, the steadying force needed to maintain footing despite all the trials. In the end, he brought an NBA title back to LA after the Lakers spent a decade in the wilderness.
Throughout a season that lasted a grueling 12 months, James never wavered. No matter what obstacles were thrown in front of him, the Lakers or the NBA, the 17-year veteran plowed onward, leading the charge from the front. He never complained, never demurred to search for help and never forgot who he is or what he means to so many people. He was the superstar the league and the Lakers needed him every single time adversity arose.
On the court, the Lakers had their fair share of problems to deal with during the 2019-20 season. With so many new pieces and a new head coach, James got everyone on the same page quickly. He completely altered his play to fit the players around him and wound up leading the NBA in assists for the first time in his career. While other superstars counted their minutes and sat out games for "load management," he played in 67 of 71 games and averaged 34.6 minutes per contest.
He navigated the Lakers through the loaded Western Conference, helping them to the top seed. Meanwhile, for the first time in history there was a legitimate title threat across town as the Clippers put together the best roster in the league led by Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. That never seemed to bother James or the Lakers, who were laser-focused on what they could control. The Clippers wound up being nothing more than a footnote as the Lakers chugged on towards a title.
After initially struggling in the bubble, the Lakers got back on track once the playoffs began. They steamrolled their Western Conference foes, smacking Portland, Houston and Denver around to win each series 4-1. Despite hype that each team had a real chance against LA, all three opponents were thoroughly outmatched. The Lakers were simply too good and their chemistry helped them rise above any challenges.
In the NBA Finals they faced a tough-as-nails Miami Heat squad, but the series rarely felt like anything but an inevitable Lakers win. With a 3-2 series lead, the LA hammered the Heat in Game 6, racing to a 36-point lead before putting things in cruise control and coming away with a 106-93 victory. James was, of course, brilliant as he scored 28 points, grabbed 14 rebounds and dished out 10 assists in 41 minutes. It was his 28th playoff triple-double and his 11th in an NBA Finals game. He was named Finals MVP, his fourth time winning the honor and he became the first player to win it with three different franchises.
As he always does, James raised his game in the postseason while simultaneously making teammates better. Anthony Davis truly became a superstar in the bubble with LeBron pushing him. Rajon Rondo turned back the clock and teamed with James to dominate on both ends. Rotation pieces like Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso had starring moments. All of that came as a side effect of James' work. Through every bulldog drive, every feathery jumper and each pinpoint pass, he was pushing and elevating his teammates.
We all knew James could handle anything thrown at him on the court, he's proven that much in his 17 years in the league. But the NBA, and especially the Lakers, faced turmoil like they never had before in 2020. Yet every time an issue arose, James was there to answer the challenge.
The league shut down indefinitely on March 11 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. When people expected the worst, James pushed for the season to resume in some form. When the league entered the Orlando bubble, he was as optimistic as anyone that it could finish safely.
When social and racial injustices rocked the country over the summer, James was one of the first to speak out and did so forcefully. He also helped form More Than a Vote, a group whose purpose is to mobilize African American voters and fight voter suppression. He also spoke out forcefully after the shooting of Jacob Blake and was willing to have a frank discussion about what it's like being an African American in this country. All of those things furthered the very real discussions Americans are having about their country right now.
Perhaps most importantly for the Lakers, James stepped up after the tragic deaths of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna. For days after the horrific helicopter crash on January 26, the sports world felt empty. Nothing else mattered. No news rose to the level of importance. Many of us felt numb to the world. After James stepped to center court at Staples Center on January 31 and spoke about Bryant, it felt like we could all begin to heal a little bit.
More than eight months later, James and the Lakers raised the Larry O'Brien Trophy in tribute to Bryant, who was his friend and a mentor. It was a perfect ending to a season unlike any other.
LeBron James will turn 36 on December 30 and next season will be his 18th in the NBA. With as much as he's accomplished, the 2019-20 season might be his finest moment. At every turn when the league and his franchise needed him, he was there and he was at his best. For 12 months he was everything we hoped he could be.
When James signed with the Lakers back in 2018 he claims he told owner Jeanie Buss he was going to, "put this franchise back where it belongs." In the most difficult year the Lakers have ever faced, he placed the franchise on his back and carried it to a championship.
Promise made, promise kept.