The Los Angeles Lakers capped their tumultuous 2019-20 campaign on Sunday night, winning game six of the NBA Finals in blowout fashion and acquiring the 17th championship in franchise history. It was a moment of catharsis for everyone involved, a moment of joy in a year that has had so little of it. The Lakers persevered through controversy, doubt, and tragedy all year long but ultimately took every challenge on the chin and came out on top of the basketball world.
The Lakers’ season was shocked by nothing more than the untimely passing of Kobe Bryant and his daughter Gianna Bryant in January, just a day after LeBron James had passed the Lakers’ icon in career points. Bryant’s last post on social media was a message of congratulations to the superstar that had succeeded him in Hollywood, a sort of welcome into the brotherhood of Lakers legends.
Bryant meant so much to fans of the Lakers. 20 years of blood, sweat, and tears had turned him into an idol in the city of Los Angeles and across the world. To the players, coaches and staff on the Lakers, he was a brother, a friend, and an inspiration. His so-called Mamba Mentality became a rallying cry for the squad and make no mistake, every member of this team exhibited it in some capacity throughout the season and in these playoffs.
Frank Vogel showed his Mamba Mentality when he ushered in a sense of calm to a franchise in turmoil. Hired as the team’s third choice to lead from the bench, Vogel showed his savviness en route to a dominant regular season and postseason campaign. He was never satisfied with just being good, making massive adjustments even when his team was up in a playoff series because he knew they could always be better.
Anthony Davis showed his Mamba Mentality in his first-ever playoffs with championship expectations. He carried the presumptive disrespect of not being named Defensive Player of the Year as a chip on his shoulder and he dominated – and I mean DOMINATED – in the postseason. His effort playing through a painful injury in game six to demolish any Miami drive into the paint was a legendary moment in what will surely be a legendary career in LA.
Avery Bradley showed his Mamba Mentality with the tone that he set all the way back in training camp on the defensive end of the floor. No one expected Bradley to be the contributor he was this year, citing his poor play with the Clippers the previous year. He was washed up. But Bradley, even while missing the postseason for the health and safety of his children, had as much to do with this defensive juggernaut making this run as anyone. He earned that ring with the way he performed and the influence he created.
Alex Caruso showed his Mamba Mentality with the growth he presented on a daily basis. An undrafted free agent out of Texas A&M, a Summer League champion, a G-Leaguer all the way to a starter in the NBA Finals in just three years. Caruso was called a meme and a joke all year but showed on the biggest stage why he was so damn valuable to this team with his defense, his hustle, and his heady play.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope showed his Mamba Mentality brushing aside a rough start to his season, feelings of doubt that he was worth the investment, only to become the most consistent “third option” on the Lakers all year long. A player who was mocked over and over again was there to hit the big shots in the NBA Finals.
Rajon Rondo showed his Mamba Mentality upping his game to a whole new height in the NBA playoffs. Doubted all year long, Rondo put aside the struggles to give the Lakers huge minutes off the bench and recorded the most total assists for a bench player in the playoffs in NBA history.
Danny Green showed his Mamba Mentality by playing through the hate, contributing even when his shot wasn’t falling and being candid about the mental health struggles that everyone goes through. He may have wanted his Finals moment at the end of game five back, but Green showed no hesitation or nerves in game six and set the tone with his hustle and defense early in the game.
J.R. Smith and Dion Waiters showed their Mamba Mentality by being ready whenever their numbers were called, no matter how rare that may have been. They mentored younger players and provided the support that their teammates needed in an environment without fans.
Quinn Cook showed his Mamba Mentality by being the most loved teammate on the roster. Cook may not have played a ton but he represented all of us as a Lakers fan living his dream of winning a championship with his childhood team. None of us will ever forget the image of Cook outside Staples Center in the middle of all the Lakers faithful mourning the loss of our hero. He was one of us.
Talen Horton-Tucker, Devontae Cacok, and Kostas Antetokounmpo showed their Mamba Mentality by providing the energy in practice to challenge their veteran teammates. From spending most of the year in the G League to witnessing the franchise that has trusted them to be the future of the team in some capacity, winning the title, those three have contributed to this run all the same.
Kyle Kuzma showed his Mamba Mentality by completely changing his role to do what the team needed him to do to win a championship. Kuzma said goodbye to his scorer’s mentality to become a 3-and-D performer and turned 180 degrees on the defensive end of the floor to become a valuable stopper on playoff opponents’ best perimeter options at times. Mentored by Kobe, Kuz showed he would do anything it takes to win a championship.
Jared Dudley showed his Mamba Mentality by accepting a role that he is the best at in the NBA. He was brought into the team to mentor the youth and challenge the stars. A respected veteran in the locker room, he did just that. His influence on Kuzma was evident but his impact on LeBron and Anthony Davis was just as important in the path to a title.
Markieff Morris showed his Mamba Mentality by joining a team months into their campaign, accepting the role they gave him, and playing it incredibly well. Morris gave the Lakers toughness, versatility, and shooting all in one and his play was particularly crucial in a dominant series against the Rockets in the second round.
JaVale McGee showed his Mamba Mentality by starting 68 regular-season games, giving the Lakers toughness down low to keep AD fresh. On top of that, he contributed in setting that defensive tone as a rim protector and enforcer down low. And when matchups dictated that he would not play a significant role in the playoffs, he was more than willing to contribute on the bench by being the best teammate and cheerleader he could be.
Dwight Howard showed his Mamba Mentality by returning to a franchise he once left in awful circumstances. He showed growth and humility in accepting his role and doing so better than anyone could imagine. He worked to repair his relationship with Kobe and with LA and he can hold his head up knowing he was a major contributor to a championship squad in Orlando.
And finally, LeBron James. LeBron has shown his Mamba Mentality all year long. In year 17, facing the first few inklings of doubt about how much longer he could be at the top of the mountain, James put together an MVP campaign. He played point guard, he scored, he played the best defense he had in years all because he knew he could lead this glorious franchise back to the glory. James’ legacy was secured before any of this happened; he’s an all-time great who has been a champion on and off the basketball court. But he led this franchise from its lowest point back to the top, he guided millions of fans through the most unfamiliar tragedy we could have ever envisioned, and he did so with class and grace and by being the ultimate badass. LeBron may have been a villain to Lakers fans before but he said it best himself, they don’t care what you’ve done until you’ve done it in purple and gold. Now, LeBron has done it in purple and gold and boy, does it feel great.