| USA TODAY
Why this NBA title is the most impressive one yet for Lakers, LeBron
SportsPulse: The Lakers and LeBron are back on top. LA gets their 17th. LeBron get his 4th. Both should look at this championship for what it is- arguably their most impressive feat yet.
Instead of clubbing all night while wearing his Los Angeles Lakers jersey to enjoy a title, the man formerly known as Ron Artest celebrated the 2020 championship differently.
“I was just home and sparked a blunt,” Metta Sandiford-Artest told USA TODAY Sports. “I was partying the whole day by myself with two or three close friends. We sparked — I don’t even know — maybe 10 blunts. We had a great time. I deserved it. The Lakers won. It was crazy. It felt like I won.”
The coronavirus pandemic and related health precautions meant that celebrations were a bit tamer this time around after the Lakers knocked off the Miami Heat in six games.
Sandiford-Artest was a key defender on the Lakers last title team in 2010, when he became beloved for his part in the Lakers’ Game 7 win over the Boston Celtics in the NBA Finals.
LAKERS ARE BACK: From no direction to 17th NBA championship
“I try not to indulge like I used to when I could go out,” said Sandiford-Artest, who changed his name from Metta World Peace after marrying Maya Sandiford in May. “But I had a really good time in the house.”
Former Lakers forwards Robert Horry and Byron Scott also celebrated in their own way. Horry enjoyed In-N-Out Burger with family members and friends. Scott sipped champagne while signing Lakers jerseys for a sports memorabilia company.
But even if all three former Lakers celebrated differently, they viewed the organization’s latest accomplishment through a common lens: elation, admiration and grief.
“That 10-year drought was something we are very unfamiliar with, and we’re not used to it,” Scott told USA TODAY Sports. “It was a sigh of relief, excitement and joy to watch it. But there was also some sorrow in there because we’re missing one of the greatest Lakers ever. Kobe (Bryant) wasn’t here to witness this.”
Scott considered this accomplishment the Lakers’ most difficult. That’s because franchise icon Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others died in a helicopter crash in January. Systemic racism was highlighted by the killing of unarmed Black individuals. The coronavirus pandemic caused the league to play in a bubble mostly away from family. “if you look at it on a scale of one to 10, this is probably an 11,” Scott said.
“It’s hard to compare it to other championships when there were so many different things that happened,” Horry, a Lakers analyst for the team’s flagship network Spectrum SportsNet, said. “There was COVID, social injustices and so many different things that they had to think about. For us, all we had to do was think about coming in and kicking butt.”
Scott was an outside shooter and defender on the Showtime Lakers where he helped them win three out of their five NBA titles in the 1980s. Horry was a clutch player for the Lakers, where he won three of his seven NBA championships (2000-2002).
But after that title in 2010, the Lakers made the playoffs for three years in a row and then did not have a winning record until this year. Bryant struggled with injuries for his final four seasons until 2016, and the Lakers shuffled through three different head coaches (Mike D’Antoni, Scott, Luke Walton). They struck out on attracting free agents (James, Carmelo Anthony, LaMarcus Aldridge) and retaining their own (Dwight Howard, Pau Gasol).
“They were out of the playoffs, but they were getting good draft picks. But out of all of those draft picks, maybe only one was living up to the hype,” Horry said. “So you had to make some moves. Lakers fans and Lakers nation is not waiting for a rebuilding year. We’re not the Philadelphia 76ers.”
So in the middle of the 2016-17 Lakers owner Jeanie Buss fired longtime GM Mitch Kupchak and her brother, Jim, who oversaw the team’s basketball operations. She then hired Magic Johnson and Rob Pelinka, who spent the next year trading parts of their young roster to create cap space for James. Though Johnson resigned in the middle of the 2018-19 season that coincided with James’ first missed playoff appearance since 2006, the Lakers acquired Anthony Davis from New Orleans. Just over a year later, the Lakers won an NBA title.
“It wasn’t surprising. I knew LeBron was going to win,” Sandiford-Artest said. “He definitely is destined to win a title. But I was watching. It was like a movie that you knew what was happening.”
The former Lakers enjoyed the movie for reasons beyond how they played basketball.
“I’m glad these guys, especially LeBron, used their platform for social justice,” Scott said. “They don’t have to be a politician to know what’s right and wrong, and to voice their opinion. I just loved the way he has really stepped up.”