By definition, having an asterisk —*— means an accomplishment is diminished or less impressive than it normally should be.
So, let’s say LeBron James and the Los Angeles Lakers happen to win the championship of the Covid-19-interrupted 2020 NBA season, should there be an ugly asterisk assigned to their accomplishment in the record books?
I say not.
Last I looked there’s no asterisk in the championships of teams during NBA seasons shortened by labor dispute.
There have been four NBA lockouts in history, but only two of them resulted in abbreviated seasons as the labor disputes in 1995 and 1996 were settled before opening night.
In 1998, however, the NBA lockout lasted more than six months and forced the season to be shortened to 50 regular season games per team.
In the NBA Finals that year, the San Antonio Spurs defeated the New York Knicks, 4-1, for the franchise’s first-ever Larry O’Brien trophy.
En route to the finals, coach Gregg Popovich, David Robinson, Tim Duncan and the “Little General” Avery Johnson lost one game in the first round against Kevin Garnett and the Minnesota Timberwolves before sweeping Shaquille O’Neal and Kobe Bryant’s Lakers and the Rasheed Wallace-led Portland Trailblazers in the conference semis and finals, respectively.
The other time the Association had to pare down games due to the lockdown was the 2012 season. It was the second year of the Miami Heat’s Big 3 era of James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.
A season after losing in the finals against the Dallas Mavericks, the Heat had to literally wait for Christmas to sink their teeth on their nemesis as they beat Dirk Nowitzki and company black and blue in both teams’ season debut, 105-94.
The Heaters would finish the shortened 66-game season at 46-20. In the first round, they dispatched the Knicks in five games before prevailing after a hard-fought six-game series against the Indiana Pacers, and in the Eastern Conference Finals, Miami had to grind it out in a seven-game affair against the Boston Celtics.
In the finals, the Heat finally gave James his long awaited coronation when they beat a trio of future MVPs in Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, and the Oklahoma Thunder in five games.
Like the Spurs in 1998, protests from Phil Jackson notwithstanding, the Heat in 2012 fully deserved their NBA championship. The Heat like the Spurs didn’t play fewer games than the rest of the field and were not given any advantage.
Like the previous two NBA lockouts, the 74th NBA season will not have the full 82 games due to the Covid-19 pandemic and that shouldn’t diminish the accomplishment of whoever comes out as this year’s champion.
If we’re that liberal in applying asterisks then might as well assign one to the Houston Rockets’ back-to-back championships in 1994 and 1995, as Sir Michael had his dalliance with baseball and retired from the NBA for the first time in those two years.
Might as well put an asterisk to the last NBA Finals as well as Kawhi Leonard and the Toronto Raptors, which got lucky when both Durant and Klay Thompson went down with injuries for the Golden State Warriors.
And since we’re on the topic of injuries, let’s also put an asterisk in the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons’ 1989 championship since the Lakers weren’t in full strength as Magic Johnson and Byron Scott were hobbled by injuries during that four-game sweep.
A team who wins the Larry O’Brien trophy — or anyone who wins the championship of the NHL, NFL, MLB, or your inter-barangay league, for that matter — in this time of coronavirus shouldn’t have an asterisk attached to that achievement.
In fact, any team who takes home the NBA championship this season should be celebrated more due to the sheer difficulty not only in restarting the league mid-stream, but also for soldiering through all restrictions like social (or physical) distancing, Covid-19 testing, playing in a virtual bubble sans fans, and other difficulties that this unprecedented season has presented.
So, by all means place an asterisk to the NBA champion of the 2020 season, but make sure the footnote reads, “Won the championship despite the Covid-19 pandemic gripping humanity.”
Mark Rabago is a former reporter at The Manila Times. He has continued his journalism career abroad but remains a true blue PBA fan. He can be reached at email@example.com.