The Los Angeles Lakers’ 2020 NBA Finals victory came from the sacrifices and hard work of a lot of people. The nature of the win, inside a bubble in Orlando amidst a global pandemic that has been raging for nearly one year now, meant that not everyone who was part of the Lakers’ journey could be there at the finish line.
Avery Bradley opted out of joining his teammates at Disney World way back when the NBA announced it would resume the season. Bradley’s son has a respiratory illness so the Lakers’ point guard who started 44 of 63 games before the season shut down in March, chose to prioritize the health and safety of his family, as anyone would.
On Sunday, the Lakers won the championship with Alex Caruso and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope taking those starting backcourt spots. The Lakers were so dominant in their 16-5 run in the postseason that it’s hard to fault anyone for forgetting that they were missing their starting point guard. But Bradley’s impact on the team was not forgotten on its members. In fact, Bradley told ESPN’s Dave McMenamin and Malika Andrews after the final win that Lakers GM Rob Pelinka (as well assistant coach Phil Handy and point guard Quinn Cook) called him after the buzzer to congratulate him on his first NBA championship.
Bradley also explained that despite not being in the bubble, he was as involved as possible with the team:
But in the evenings, when games were on, he would plop down on the sofa with Ashley, his children and sometimes his mother-in-law.
“I watched every single game,” Bradley said. “I am still a Laker.”
Bradley said that before the first game of every series, he had a phone call with Pelinka. He shot off text messages of encouragement to his teammates before games and congratulated players on individual performances afterward. After Davis put up 34 points, 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks in his NBA Finals debut, Bradley texted him that he’d never seen a game quite like that.
“You play your whole career working for a championship,” Bradley said, “and knowing that I was this close and a part of something, even though I wasn’t there, is still an amazing feeling.”
If you ask the Lakers, they will tell you that Bradley set the tone for this defense-first team way back in training camp. About a year later, they held the Miami Heat to just 36 points in the first half of a closeout Finals game even without Bradley’s point-of-attack defense.