Tuesday’s NBA: Lakers get championship rings with empty arena, full hearts

Greg Beacham
Associated Press

Los Angeles — The Los Angeles Lakers received their NBA championship rings Tuesday night in an empty arena that still felt filled with warmth from their families, friends and millions of fans worldwide.

And while they put the blindingly brilliant jewelry on their fingers, the Lakers promised to hold a real party for their 17th championship as soon as everyone can attend.

Los Angeles Lakers' Anthony Davis, left, LeBron James, center, and Quinn Cook show their championship rings Tuesday before the team's game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

“I’m going to take a second to speak directly to Lakers fans: We miss you so much,” Lakers owner Jeanie Buss said. “The team misses you, but someday soon, we’ll be together. And when we are together, we have something special to celebrate.”

Just 72 days after LeBron James, Anthony Davis and their teammates finished off the Miami Heat in the NBA bubble, the Lakers returned from the shortest offseason in league history to get their reward. The coaches, executives and 11 returning players from last season’s championship team received their rings at Staples Center in a brief, warm ceremony before their regular-season opener against the Los Angeles Clippers.

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The raising of the banner honoring their 17th championship is going to wait until fans are in Staples Center to enjoy it with them. The spot where it will hang eventually on the arena walls is currently occupied by a black banner reading: “STAY TUNED, LAKERS FAMILY.”

The ring presentations observed social distancing measures that seemed totally appropriate for 2020. The families of the Lakers’ players and coaches appeared in short, heartfelt videos of introduction before the players walked up to an individual podium to grab the rings by themselves.

Davis was cheered on by his parents, who expressed their pride in all of his basketball accomplishments. James’ mother, uncles and children virtually congratulated him before he claimed his ring and joyously held up four fingers in honor of his four NBA titles with three franchises.

When general manager Rob Pelinka put his ring on his right hand, he threw up a 2 and 4 with his fingers in honor of Kobe Bryant.

“You showed last year what a talented group of individuals can accomplish if they buy into being a team,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel told his players. “To our fans, we cannot wait until it is safe enough for you guys to be back at Staples Center so we can perform in front of you and celebrate all this stuff with you guys. We thank you and we love you.”

Jason of Beverly Hills, the Lakers’ traditional jeweler, created the rings, just as he did for the 2009 and 2010 championship teams led by Bryant, Pau Gasol and coach Phil Jackson.

James and Davis led the Lakers to the title in the NBA’s Florida bubble during the first season of their West Coast partnership, making a 16-5 postseason run to James’ fourth championship and Davis’ first.

But the Lakers made no secret of their disappointment at celebrating their entire offseason without fans, thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. They didn’t get a parade in downtown Los Angeles, and no fans were in the Staples stands to cheer in recognition of the franchise’s sixth championship since the downtown building opened in 1999.

“These are obviously highly unusual times and a very different ring ceremony without fans,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “To the Laker fans, we’re going to make it up to you. We’ll do this again when the fans are in the building.”

Buss and Vogel also made sure to thank the Lakers who moved on during the brief offseason: JaVale McGee, Danny Green, Dwight Howard, Rajon Rondo, Avery Bradley, JR Smith, Dion Waiters, Troy Daniels and DeMarcus Cousins.

“Winning No. 17 means you are forever a part of the Lakers legacy, just as you are forever a part of ours,” Buss said.

And at least one member of the Miami Heat — Bradley, who passed on joining the Lakers in the bubble last summer citing family health concerns and then signed with the Lakers’ NBA Finals opponent in the offseason — was eager to see the Lakers’ ring celebration.

Bradley said he would be watching the ceremony on television. The Heat were in Orlando on Tuesday night, preparing for their opener their Wednesday against the Magic.

“I was actually texting Kyle Kuzma this morning,” Bradley said. “He’s pretty excited about the ceremony. I’m excited for those guys. … There was a lot of work I put in last year with that team and it’ll be a memory that I have forever.”

Bradley has been sized for a ring, though wasn’t clear exactly when he would receive the jewelry. The Heat visit the Lakers on Feb. 20, which might be the logical time for Bradley to get the ring.

International pursuits

The NBA is still looking at scenarios that could allow teams to play in Europe and China again next season, deputy commissioner Mark Tatum said.

Tatum also said the NBA’s season-opening doubleheader Tuesday night would be shown in China on Tencent, a league streaming partner. But the coronavirus pandemic is preventing the league from playing any games outside the U.S. this season, except possibly a return by the Toronto Raptors to Canada – something that won’t happen before March at the earliest.

Typically, the NBA has played preseason games in China and takes some regular-season games to Mexico and Europe. This season’s plans called for a game in Paris, though the pandemic forced those to be tabled.

“We do anticipate that once it becomes healthy and safe to be able to do that that we’ll return to a schedule of international preseason and regular-season games,” Tatum said on a call with international reporters.

NBA games were available on Tencent last season even while the league and the Chinese government worked through a very strained relationship – an October 2019 tweet by then-Houston general manager Daryl Morey showing support for anti-government protesters in Hong Kong prompted major fallout, including state broadcaster CCTV not showing any NBA games for a full year. CCTV put the NBA back on its channel lineup for the last two games of the NBA Finals last fall.

Commissioner Adam Silver said at the All-Star break this past February that the league’s issues with China would lead to perhaps as much as $400 million in lost revenue – and that was before the pandemic struck and led to even more revenue missed leaguewide.

Tatum’s comments came on the day the NBA revealed its roster breakdown of international players for this season; 107 such players from 41 countries made opening-night rosters, including a record 17 Canadian players and a record-tying 14 African players.