The Los Angeles Lakers may have won the 2020 NBA championship last week, but somewhat lost in the celebrations since has been just how close the league seemed to come to ending the Disney World bubble and going home without a champion.
When Jacob Blake — an unarmed Black man — was shot in Kenosha, Wisconsin, the Milwaukee Bucks opted to sit out their first-round playoff game against the Orlando Magic, kicking off a wildcat strike around the NBA.
In the aftermath of that stoppage, players around the league met to determine whether they would continue the season, or stop it as part of their continued protests for social justice. Reports came out that the Lakers and Clippers both voted to end the season, with LeBron James as a particularly vocal proponent of popping the bubble.
Players eventually voted to resume, but for a day or two, it really did seem like the longest season in NBA history might end prematurely. However, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel revealed to Zach Lowe of ESPN that some of the reporting on the Lakers voting to stop the year may have been a bit, to use Lowe’s term, “hyperbolic.”
Here’s what he said during his appearance on “The Lowe Post.”
“For three days we were unsure. I know our group always had the intent to finish this thing, finish this out. Obviously we had a couple guys that were heavier-hearted on the social justice issues, so while all that was going on, I thought there was potential for us to not finish, but I just knew where our particular team and our leadership was, there was a desire to finish. So I always felt like it would get done.
“When that report came out that quote-unquote ‘the Clippers and the Lakers voted to not finish the season,’ I was shocked, I was floored, I didn’t really understand it. We met with some of our guys to get their perspective and it was really just like an unofficial poll of like how (they were) feeling in the moment, you know what I mean? I think some more conversations continued to happen and it became clear that we were all interested in staying to play.”
Some might be quick to say this is revisionist history, but that reporting was also pushed back on by players who were in the meeting at the time. Lakers guard Danny Green talked to the media the day after the players agreed to resume the season, and even then said that a lot of the stuff being reported wasn’t completely accurate.
“I don’t know how all of that stuff gets out so fast, and not all of it’s correct information,” Green said. “I don’t know what you guys have heard. I’ve heard many different stories of ‘LeBron said this, LeBron did that,’ (or) ‘so and so did this, so and so said that... Most of it was untrue. I don’t know what you’ve heard and what you think is true or not, everybody has different opinions.”
Even back then, Green echoed Vogel saying that the vote to “stop the season” was just preliminary polling, not a final verdict.
“It wasn’t as crazy as everybody made it seem. (The) details aren’t as drastic,” Green said.
So with all of that pushback, it’s not that far of a leap to assume that while James was likely a vocal critic of NBA ownership and that some Lakers may have felt like continuing the season wasn’t the best thing to do, they eventually all got on the same page and decided to continue trying to use their platforms to fight against systemic racism during the playoffs. Green, for example, began every single media availability he had in the bubble by asking for justice for Breonna Taylor and other Black people killed by police who haven’t gotten justice.
He wasn’t alone in that plea.
In the end, though, with so many differing accounts, we’ll never know for certain how close the Lakers were to not getting a chance to win the title, and what exactly went down in that meeting in August.
What we do know, however, is that the players used their leverage from that session to get greater financial commitments from NBA ownership groups to fight for social justice causes that are important to their workforce, as well as more opportunities to use the visibility of the playoffs to raise awareness of those causes and the importance of voting. In the end, on a human level, that’s all that matters. Compared the real-world importance of everything else going on, them winning a title on top of those tangible, meaningful achievements is just icing.