On Wednesday night, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Miami Heat will go head-to-head in the two teams’ first ever NBA Finals meeting. Though the opposing forces have never crossed paths on the way to the promised land until now, neither team is a stranger to the league’s biggest stage.
We went for months without sports. Now, sports fans have the opportunity to watch what will go down as a historic best-of-seven championship showdown. There will be countless narratives surrounding this series, but I broke down the five key storylines that I believe will ultimately define this season’s Finals as one of the greatest ever.
LeBron James to face his former team
It’s been 10 years since LeBron James announced he would be leaving Cleveland and heading off to South Beach. During his time in Miami, James led the Heat to four straight Finals appearances, earned two rings and won back-to-back MVP awards.
Many might agree that James’ tenure with the Heat featured his best years as a player — though, it is hard to determine if the king’s prime has even passed yet.
Nevertheless, the Miami days proved to be a crucial point in James’ legacy as a basketball player. He faced more scrutiny than most athletes have ever endured in sports with his decision to leave his home state and unite with two other superstars in the eye-catching city that is Miami. After seven seasons of not winning an NBA title, James raised the Larry O’Brien trophy for the first time in just his second season with the organization.
He went on to do it again the following season, joining a number of legends that won consecutive championships.
Fast forward to today, James is preparing to compete against his former team with the same goal he had when he departed to Miami in the summer of 2010: to win an NBA championship.
What’s the only thing that could make this story better? If his buddy, Dwyane Wade had stayed with the Heat for just one more season.
Pat Riley will be rooting against his old team
The 2019-2020 Los Angeles Lakers team has shown flashes of the 80s “showtime” Lakers. Former Lakers head coach Pat Riley, who won three championships with L.A. during the “showtime” era, currently holds the role of team president for the Miami Heat.
Starting Wednesday night, Riley will watch this series in hope that his Heat defeat the team he coached for eight seasons. Such an achievement would add a ninth ring to his collection that he has obtained as a player, coach and executive.
Riley will also be on the opposing side of his former star point guard, Magic Johnson. Johnson, who stepped down as president of basketball operations of the Lakers at the end of the 2018-19 season, has made it clear over social media that he still remains a Laker at heart. A tale like this should create exciting nostalgia for every fan of the NBA and its history.
A chance for big names to acquire their first championship
There is certainly going to be no shortage of current and former stars in this Finals matchup. A lot is on the line in this series for a few ringless stars who are seeking to add the ultimate piece of hardware to their resumes.
Former No. 1 overall draft pick, Anthony Davis, whom many believe will go down as one of the league’s greatest big men ever, will be seeking his first championship in just his first season with the Lakers. A ring this year would be the perfect kickoff to what seems to be the beginning of Davis’ prime, and it might just be all Davis needs to solidify himself as one of the greats.
Another addition to the Lakers last off-season — though, being his second go-round — was 8x All-Star center Dwight Howard. The former defensive player of the year found a rebirth with the Lakers this season after years of few ups and many downs.
While Howard’s overall legacy is up for debate, there is no doubt that a title would be the perfect recognition of a long career, especially if this is to be the final award he gets to hoist.
There is one player, however, who has more to prove than both these Lakers stars. Jimmy Butler, 11-season NBA veteran, has been to the playoffs eight times, including this season. During the past few seasons, his value as a teammate and ability to lead has been questioned.
Such thoughts can be canned for the time being. Butler has gone on a tremendous postseason run, averaging 20.7 points per game and proving he is capable of leading a team to the championship round.
Though the name “Jimmy Buckets” has floated around the league for a good while, the 5x All-Star is still just 30 years old. No matter the outcome of this series, Butler will have a lot to build off of in the coming years, and Miami seems to be the perfect place for him to do it.
An opportunity to claim more jewelry
LeBron James will be going for his fourth title, just two shy of Michael Jordan’s total. Whether he ties Jordan’s count or not, James will only boost his case in the G.O.A.T. debate if he is to win a ring with three different franchises.
If the Lakers leave “the bubble” in Orlando victorious, James won’t be the only member of the roster to claim such an achievement. Defending NBA champ, Danny Green, who was also acquired last off-season, would also win a championship with his third different team. Rajon Rondo will also have a chance to win another ring. His last — and only — one was won with the Boston Celtics in 2008. How interesting would it be to win a title with franchise rivals, the Lakers and Celtics?
Heat forward Andre Iguodala, who will be participating in his sixth straight Finals, will be looking to attain his fourth ring, like James.
The winner of this series will certainly deserve its achievement and its right to be cemented in NBA history. But the most emotional narrative in this series favors Los Angeles. It is fitting that the year that Lakers legend Kobe Bryant tragically passed in a helicopter crash, his only NBA team has climbed its way to the top of the mountain for the first time since Bryant and the Lakers did so 10 years ago.
Whether you’ve been with or against the Lakers during this playoff ride, it is without question that a championship in Kobe Bean Bryant’s honor would be the perfect storybook ending to what was a very impactful loss to the historic franchise back in January.
Aidan Champion is a general assignment reporter and columnist for WDBM Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @champion_aidan.