10 greatest Lakers championship teams: No. 9

Over a span of several decades, the Los Angeles Lakers became the gold standard of basketball by winning championship after championship. They did so with a formula that consisted of transcendent leaders, star players, selfless supporting contributors and a healthy team concept.

The Lakers are one of very few teams in sports that have had multiple dynasties. They had one in their embryonic years in Minneapolis, one during the Showtime era of the 1980s and yet another one in the first decade of the 21st century. As such, not every one of their championship teams can be put on a top 10 list, but we will do our best to rank the 10 greatest Lakers teams to win it all.

We continue with a team that managed to win it all despite a number of serious challenges that could’ve derailed it.

Surpassing expectations

After Kobe Bryant tore his Achilles in 2013, which, for all intents and purposes, ended his NBA career even though he retired in 2016, the Lakers fell into a black hole. They missed the playoffs five straight times beginning with the 2013-14 season, and it looked like perhaps their mystique was long gone.

But in the summer of 2018, they landed the biggest name in basketball: LeBron James. It was a message that Lakers mystique and tradition were back. But there was a problem — they didn’t have a good enough team around him to go all the way.

Instead of a co-superstar and strong supporting cast, they had youngsters such as Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma, all of whom were good players but nothing special. Even though they forged a 20-14 record with a win over the two-time defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors on Christmas Day, the seemingly indestructible James injured his groin and missed several weeks. Multiple other injuries caused the team to lose its mojo, and it ended up missing the playoffs yet again.

After that unmitigated disaster, the Lakers traded for Anthony Davis that summer and brought in a number of reliable veteran role players. But going into training camp, few outside the Southland thought they had a real shot at the NBA title. In ESPN’s annual survey of its so-called experts, the Lakers came in fourth in the polling of who would win it all.

On opening night of the 2019-20 campaign, the Lakers lost to the Clippers, who were the top favorites to win it all. But after that, they won 24 of their next 26 games, and they started to look like a powerhouse. Their defense was outstanding, and their fast break, at times, was withering.

Then came Bryant’s tragic death in late January in a helicopter crash. The team was so distraught that it elected to not play its next game. Once the shock of the tragedy started to wear off, James and his mates decided to dedicate the rest of the season to Bryant’s memory and do things the way the “Black Mamba” would’ve wanted them to.

The first full weekend of March saw the Lakers defeat the Milwaukee Bucks, who had the NBA’s best record, and the Clippers in less than 48 hours. Finally, they had made a statement that they were fully capable of winning the world championship.

But then everything on the planet came to a standstill.

Beating the virus -- and all challengers

In late 2019, a new pathogen called SARS-CoV-2, a novel coronavirus, was identified in China. It started to spread through the Asian continent before reaching all corners of the globe, including the United States. By the beginning of March, it became clear that this pathogen was going to upend everyday life for a while.

On March 11, when then-Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the novel coronavirus (after mocking the seriousness of the situation a few days earlier), the NBA suspended the season indefinitely. It was the same day the World Health Organization declared the spread of the virus a pandemic. As the virus spread nearly unchecked and put tons of souls in the hospital or killed them, it was thought there couldn’t possibly be a safe way to resume the season and crown a champion.

But the NBA did exactly that inside the “bubble” of Walt Disney World Resort. Many were initially skeptical, but it turned out to be a huge success for the league.

It was also a huge success for the Lakers.

They blew through the playoffs with relative ease, taking a 3-1 lead in each series, and they claimed the Larry O’Brien Trophy with a dominant Game 6 win over the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals. Before that, the Portland Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets and Denver Nuggets all fell by the wayside in five games each. While none of those teams may be considered great, they all had at least one bona fide star and future Hall of Famer.

LeBron James claimed NBA Finals MVP honors by averaging 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists versus Miami. Although it elevated his legacy, to this day, some critics claim that ring shouldn’t count because of the odd circumstances.

But it most certainly counts, giving James four championships (at least for now). Meanwhile, there were no recorded cases of COVID-19 inside the bubble.

Story originally appeared on LeBron Wire