Once again, the Los Angeles Lakers have taken home the prize, successfully earning their 17th title as NBA champions on Oct. 11, 2,500 miles away from the Lakers' faithful. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, however, loyal Lakers fans were forced to celebrate quite differently this time around.
After the Lakers' championship victory in 2010, fans swarmed Figueoroa street outside the Staples Center, three miles from USC campus. A live audience dominated the stadium while crowds roared in excitement, celebrating the victory of their favorite basketball team. This year, however, social distancing protocols forced many fans to honor the Lakers' success from the comfort and safety of their own homes.
Celebrations following the 106-93 victory against the Miami Heat were limited, as live audiences were prohibited from entering the “NBA Bubble,” a term used to describe the safety isolation zone for NBA players. This restrictive “bubble” located at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World has kept 22 NBA teams in isolation and protection from the coronavirus. Only a small number of family members are permitted to enter the bubble and attend the playoffs.
Thomas Finello, a junior majoring in economics, cheered the team on from home in Los Angeles with his roommates. Though he prefers live participation, he said that watching the game with his friends was “just as fun.”
“Being an LA native, you always want to see your hometown team win,” said Finello. “It was historic and a nice victory that was good for the fanbase.”
Encouraging fans to adhere to Los Angeles County Department of Health coronavirus protocols, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti tweeted to “honor our city’s triumph by protecting others and making sure we don’t spread the virus.”
However, his message to stay home did not suffice in preventing hundreds of die-hard Lakers fans from congregating outside the Staples Center.
Not only did fans gather outside the stadium to celebrate the victory, but also to honor Laker legend Kobe Bryant, who died in a helicopter crash in January. Since the Lakers dedicated this season to Bryant, their triumph was particularly spectacular, upholding their promise to win a championship on Bryant’s behalf.
Rachel Kuai, a sophomore occupational therapy major who participated in the Staples Center celebration, said that fans danced, cheered, and honked their horns as they chanted, “Kobe!” in the streets. She said this season was unlike any other because of the psychological barriers the team had to overcome.
“There was a unified, excited thrill,” Kuai said. “The environment outside was a kind of surreal experience. This season was special because it proves that the Lakers could outperform other teams physically, but it was really their strong mentality that got them to the end.”
Sam Schiff, a junior majoring in business administration, also attended the in-person celebration at the Staples Center. Describing himself as, “a Lakers' fan since birth,” Schiff emphasized the rampant success of the team.
“It was really cool to see because we went from being so mediocre to being so good, in the blink of an eye,” he said. “It was Christmas in October.”