As we do nearly every season after crowning an NBA champion, a lot of the discourse has shifted to whether there is an “asterisk” on the Lakers’ 2020 title run. The bubble circumstances were obviously different and they didn’t face the opponents that pundits thought they would but in general, they ran through the postseason in a fairly dominant manner. In the Finals, of course, they took advantage of the Miami Heat suffering injuries to key players Goran Dragic and Bam Adebayo, which led to Heat president Pat Riley giving this juicy soundbite to reporters (h/t Quenton S. Albertie of Slam for transcription):
“They beat us fair and squarely. They were the best team. But there’s always going to be that asterisk, that caveat.
“If we had Bam and Goran—Goran was our leading scorer in the playoffs—at 100 percent, it could have gone to a seventh game,” he continued. “But I’m not going to look back on it, I’m just going to look at all the positive things.”
Of course, a comment like that will turn some heads (especially given Riley’s relationship with Lakers’ star LeBron James) but ESPN’s Jorge Sedano gave some clarification that Riley was not trying to discredit the Lakers with his quote:
Riley even used the example of how he coached 2 Lakers teams that dealt with injuries and got swept.
We need to do better, when doing this.
There’s no wonder there is a mistrust of those in our profession
— Jorge Sedano (@Sedano) October 25, 2020
Riley himself also clarified his stance:
Pat Riley, on how his words Friday have been wildly twisted out of context: “The asterisk is next to the Heat’s name, not the Lakers. Their title is legitimate. Our loss has an asterisk (next) to it. The Lakers were the better team. Period.”
— Tim Reynolds (@ByTimReynolds) October 25, 2020
Now listen. If you’re saying your loss has an asterisk, then by definition you are claiming the opponents’ win has an asterisk but that’s neither here nor there.
There’s no way to know exactly what would have happened in the Finals if Dragic and Adebayo were healthy. The Lakers were up big in the first game when the two left with injuries but that’s not necessarily indicative of how the series would progress. You could argue that the Heat gave the Lakers more trouble at least on the defensive end when Kelly Olynyk was playing over Adebayo due to his ability to stretch out to the 3-point line.
Lakers fans are always going to believe that they were the better team, deserving winners, and that they would have still beaten the Heat regardless of who played. The Heat and their fans will always believe that they would have had a chance had two of their best players not been hampered by injuries. Neither side is necessarily wrong and that’s just what competition is. The only issue here is that there is no such thing as an asterisk to a title run; nearly every champion in NBA history has benefited from some injury luck. That’s just how sports go.