CLEVELAND — It doesn’t hit home the same way it did in 2016, for obvious reasons, but there are Northeast Ohioians filled with pride seeing LeBron James—the kid from Akron—notch his fourth NBA Championship as the Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Miami Heat Sunday night, taking the series in six games.
The win, while not as sentimental for those in the Cleveland area, carried extra weight as the Lakers continue to mourn the loss of NBA superstar Kobe Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash with his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven other passengers in January.
The team wore their “Black Mamba” jerseys, which Bryant helped design, five times during the playoffs, only losing once while wearing them.
"It's something more than just a uniform. It represents an individual who gave this franchise 20 years of his blood, sweat and tears," James said.
Sunday's win also marks the first time the Lakers have won the title since Bryant led them to victory in 2010.
Winning for Los Angeles the year the game lost a true legend is a beautiful way to close out a season filled with tragedy and complications.
Forget about an asterisk
Throughout the playoffs James and Anthony Davis led the Lakers past competitive teams, starting with the scrappy Portland Trailblazers, then onto the talent-loaded Houston Rockets and taking the Western Conference Finals title over the determined Denver Nuggets. In the Finals, the Miami Heat were determined competitors who fought hard against the Lakers.
James, who put up a triple-double over the Heat in Game 6 of the unconventional Finals held in the NBA bubble amid the COVID-19 pandemic, added a few new records to his resume during the series, including joining Jerry West as the only two players in NBA history with at least 1,500 points in the NBA Finals.
He was also named the NBA Finals MVP, the first player in NBA history to win the award on three different teams.
Now, many of James’ critics have said there is an asterisk that comes beside this championship and have tried to discredit this win as less rewarding than a typical NBA Championship won outside of a pandemic.
The arguments of an easy win inside of the bubble, while backed by the points of no travel or distractions, is dismissive of the mental toll the modified playoff environment—and the nearly five month break between the season’s freeze and the resumption inside of the bubble—took on every single player involved.
Mind Still in Sprint Mode! 🔒. Won’t let me sleep. Love it! Wouldn’t want it any other way right now— LeBron James (@KingJames) October 3, 2020
"I think this one is going to be a tough one," Davis told ESPN ahead of the Finals. "People said it's going to be the toughest championship in NBA history from a mental standpoint just because of the circumstances."
James agreed with Davis, saying that this year’s championship run was the most difficult in his professional career.
"It's probably been the most challenging thing I've ever done as far as a professional, as far as committing to something and actually making it through," James told ESPN when asked about life in the NBA bubble. "But I knew when I was coming what we were coming here for. I would be lying if I sat up here and knew that everything inside the bubble, the toll that it would take on your mind and your body and everything else, because it's been extremely tough. But I'm here for one reason and one reason only, and that's to compete for a championship."
Just a kid from Akron
We all would have loved to see James win more championships wearing wine and gold here in Cleveland, but we’ll always have 2016.
The moment a hometown hero kept a promise, broke a championship drought and brought a feeling to fans that can never really be put into words.
So as James celebrates his fourth NBA Championship, this time for the Lakers, Northeast Ohio can feel good that one of our own brought that feeling to a fan base in a year they needed it most.
If he never plays for Cleveland again we can always take pride in having the NBA Finals MVP, and one of the greatest of all time to play the game, call Northeast Ohio home.
Camryn Justice is a digital content producer at News 5 Cleveland. Follow her on Twitter @camijustice.