LeBron James' Lakers Win Has Eerie Parallels With Kobe Bryant's 2009 Triumph

The Los Angeles Lakers repeatedly referenced Kobe Bryant throughout the season.

Since the five-time NBA champion and his daughter Gianna tragically died in a helicopter crash just outside Los Angeles late last January, everyone connected with the Lakers organization spoke of their desire to end a 10-year wait for an NBA title to pay a fitting tribute to Bryant and of his teenage daughter.

"The one thing that we always shared was that determination to just always want to win and just want to be great," LeBron James said at Bryant's memorial service earlier this year. "I want to continue along with my teammates, to continue his legacy [...] because that's what Kobe Bryant would want."

On Sunday night, James fulfilled his promise, leading the Lakers to a 106-93 win over the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the NBA Finals and delivering the franchise's first championship since 2010. Upon his arrival in Los Angeles in the summer of 2018, James was seen as the natural successor to Bryant in a long list of Lakers legends and his first title donning the famous Purple and Gold uniform drew eerie parallels with the penultimate of Bryant's fifth rings.

In 2009, the Lakers were the No. 1 seed going into the playoffs after winning the Western Conference, a feat they repeated this year, despite playing 11 fewer games as the NBA adjusted its regular season to compensate for the four-month lockdown enforced by the coronavirus outbreak. Both Bryant and James, meanwhile, arrived into the postseason after finishing second in the MVP race after Bryant lost out to James himself, while LeBron finished behind back-to-back winner Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Both Bryant and James were then named NBA Finals MVP after leading their teams to the title.

The path trodden by the 2009 Lakers and their 2020 vintage becomes even more similar when their respective postseasons are analyzed. This year, Los Angeles dispatched the Portland Trail Blazers 4-1 in the first round, before defeating the Houston Rockets in five games in the Western Conference Semifinals and then overcoming the Denver Nuggets in five games in the Western Conference Finals.

Eleven years ago, Bryant and the Lakers had followed a similar path, defeating the Utah Jazz 4-1 in the first round, before eliminating the Rockets in seven games in the conference semifinals and prevailing 4-2 over the Nuggets in the Western Conference Finals.

Both, the 2009 Lakers and their 2020 counterparts, lost Game 3 of the NBA Finals. The former won the next two games to clinch the title, while the latter also lost Game 5 before eventually securing the championship with a win in Game 6. Intriguingly, while the two iterations of the Lakers faced a different team in the Finals, because the unprecedented nature of this season the 2020 Lakers got to celebrate the title in the same city—albeit in a a different arena—where their 2009 counterparts toasted their triumph.

In 2009, the Lakers entered the Finals with home court advantage and won Game 5 in Orlando, which this year hosted the resumption of the NBA season after the coronavirus lockdown.

The parallels didn't stop with the Lakers either. In 2009, the Magic knocked off the No. 1 seed en route to the Finals, defeating the James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 4-2 in the Eastern Conference Finals, while this year the Heat—which incidentally entered the playoffs as the No. 5 seed just as they did in 2009—eliminated the No. 1 seeded Milwaukee Bucks in the conference semifinals.

The Lakers defended their title in 2010. Will history repeat itself again?

LeBron James, NBA, Los Angeles Lakers
LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers holds the NBA Finals MVP Award after the Lakers won the NBA title by defeating the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the 2020 NBA Finals at AdventHealth Arena at the ESPN Wide World Of Sports Complex on October 11 in Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Mike Ehrmann/Getty