Trading Baskets: The True Champions

Lakers' first title since 2010 symbolizes much more than just a ring.

“Trading Baskets” is a weekly NBA column written by Reagan Griffin Jr. and Eddie Sun. The writers “hand off” each week’s installment, continuing an ongoing dialogue to challenge the way fans think about basketball. Click here to read last week’s edition.

The Los Angeles Lakers are champions once again.

As a Lakers fan, it’s tempting to use this platform to gloat, to toss out the in-your-faces and i-told-you-sos and call it a day, but that’s not what I want to address. To be frank, as the purple and gold confetti fell upon the Lakers, my Lakers, there was no sense of euphoria. I was proud, sure, but lost was the sheer gratification that I’d experienced ten years prior when it was Kobe victoriously lifting the Larry O’Brien.

Searching for some semblance of the pure elation that my younger self experienced in 2010, I wondered why I didn’t feel compelled to jump for joy or belt triumphantly. There had to be more within me than a fist pump and some claps of approval. The championship was, after all, what the season was all about, right?

Not this year, I realized.

Sports are integral to my self-identity. My Blackness, however, exists at the very core of my being.

Moments for my favorite teams are special. Moments for my people, however, rejuvenate my spirit in a way that nothing else can. And the 2019-2020 NBA season featured many of those moments.

We saw Anthony Davis, a Black person, take control of his career arc, practically willing his way to the Lakers to join LeBron James.

We sat on the edge of our seats as Kawhi Leonard, a Black person, owned free agency in a way few ever have, dictating his terms with the Los Angeles Clippers and swinging Paul George in the process.

We honored the life of David Stern, a man who as commissioner of the NBA made it a point to allow players, Black players, to become the face of the league.

We mourned the death of Kobe Bryant, a Black person whose tenacity and work ethic captivated millions across the globe.

We watched young Black players such as Malcom Brogdon and Jaylen Brown step to the forefront as leaders of the most impactful social justice movement in American history, #BlackLivesMatter.

We applauded the Milwaukee Bucks as they put their foot down and said enough is enough in the wake of the murder of Jacob Blake, followed by a players' strike in the name of Black humanity.

We witnessed the power of Black people –– a power that means the world to me, a Black college student still trying to figure out this world.

In the midst of so much uncertainty and injustice, it’s easy to be pessimistic about the future. To see Black people influence the world in the way that the NBA players have over the past year or so, however, gives me hope. It allows me to take solace in knowing that things can change, that it is possible to demand and receive better circumstances.

So sure, maybe I don’t exactly feel ecstatic about the Lakers winning the championship. But, can you really blame me? In a normal NBA season, everything culminates in the Finals, where the winner is ultimately crowned at the climax of the basketball year. Coming on the heels of everything that’s occurred over the course of this tumultuous year, however, a trophy simply doesn’t carry the same weight.

The reality of this season is that the victory was won before the buzzer ever sounded on Game 6. The champions of this season weren’t the Los Angeles Lakers – it was Black people.

“Trading Baskets” typically runs every other Friday.