Over 569 days after they opened the 2019-20 NBA season, the Los Angeles Lakers finally unveiled their world championship banner ahead of their game against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday night.
On October 22, 2019, the new-look Lakers began their season with a 112-102 loss against the LA Clippers. That game featured the highly anticipated debuts of Anthony Davis, Danny Green, and the return of Dwight Howard to the purple and gold.
The Lakers impressed during the regular season, and went into the second half of the NBA schedule with the best record in the Western Conference. Unfortunately, nobody could predict what would happen next.
After a 104-102 loss to the Brooklyn Nets on March 10, the NBA suspended the season indefinitely because of the COVID-19 virus. The ongoing pandemic would freeze the world of sports for nearly four months, until the NBA season finally resumed inside a bubble at Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.
The Lakers dominated the NBA Playoffs in the bubble, defeating the Miami Heat in six games to win the 2020 NBA Finals on Oct. 13. Over seven months later, the team finally unveiled that championship banner in front of a limited amount of fans at Staples Center in their final home game of the 2021 regular season.
For most of the NBA season, fans have not been allowed in attendance because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The team held an Opening Night ring ceremony at Staples Center featuring virtual videos from their family and friends. No fans were in attendance.
At the time, high up in the rafters where the Lakers 16 other NBA Championship banners hung proudly was a sign for the fans: “Stay Tuned. Lakers Family”
As the national vaccination plan rolled out across the country, and Los Angeles County’s situation began to improve dramatically, Staples Center slowly began to open back up to fans.
That’s when Lakers’ owner Jeanie Buss announced that the team would hold off on their banner unveiling ceremony until the final home game of the regular season on May 12.
“We’ve waited until now because our banner has always been about our fans,” said Buss. “It’s so good to hear you guys together and be together as family, again.”
Before the banner was unveiled, a video played on the videoboard at halfcourt of the Staples Center arena, showing highlights of all 17 of the Lakers NBA Championships, finishing with the team’s most recent title in the bubble.
After Buss spoke, superstar LeBron James, who is currently out of the lineup with a high right ankle sprain also addressed the crowd.
“On behalf of my teammates, coaching staff, training staff, myself and the other team captain, A.D., we would not send this banner to the rafters without you guys,” said James. “I know we’re missing a lot of our Laker faithful, but this is absolutely for you guys. We said we would not reveal this banner until we had some of you guys in the seats. This is your guys’ moment. We had our ring night, we wanted you guys there, but we made sure we saved the banner for y’all. We love you guys, and the road to back-to-back starts in about a week. Let’s get going.”
James was referring to the NBA Playoffs which begin with a play-in tournament May 18-22, followed by the standard 16-team playoff takes place from May 22 to July 22, 2021.
As the banner was slowly revealed, fans inside Staples Center began chanting “Kobe! Kobe! Kobe!” in memory of Kobe Bryant.
After James addressed the crowd, the other Lakers’ superstar, Anthony Davis, who also sat out the game against the Rockets with a groin injury, spoke to the faithful fans.
“Without you guys we wouldn’t be able to raise this banner or have this trophy behind me,” Davis said. “Like LeBron said, let’s get it going and try to repeat.”