The 2019-20 NBA season has, at long last, come to an end.
Without exaggeration, we can say this was the longest, wildest, perhaps most tragic, yet still among the most fun and important seasons ever played.
A lot happened between opening night on Oct. 22, 2019, to when the Los Angeles Lakers won it all last Sunday, nearly a full calendar year after.
In case you can’t remember what exactly took place, here’s a handy month-by-month timeline to refresh your memory on a season unlike any other.
• Before the season even began, the extremely political nature of the season was foreshadowed when Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey got the league in hot water when he posted a since-deleted tweet in support of Hong Kong protesters.
This action angered the Chinese government and cost the NBA some significant business with Tencent, the television company that airs NBA games in the country, refusing to air Rockets games in the aftermath.
Meanwhile, the Lakers and Brooklyn Nets were in the country for an exhibition series with players getting peppered with questions about the controversy, adding fuel to the fire.
Lakers star LeBron James then appeared to criticize Morey for his comments, which led to him and the league being reprimanded back home for appearing to put the financial interests of the NBA ahead of the human rights issues Morey brought light.
The NBA ended up not punishing Morey and this extraordinary start to the season proved to just be the beginning of a very politically active NBA year.
• On the lighter side, on opening night the defending champion Toronto Raptors got their rings and ended up beating the New Orleans Pelicans to boot.
• In less fun news, as a cap on the month, the road to the Golden State Warriors winning the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft began when two-time MVP Stephen Curry broke his left hand on Oct. 30.
• After being thought done for his career, Carmelo Anthony found a home with the Portland Trail Blazers.
• Despite being already named an all-star already, Ben Simmons had never hit a three-point shot in his NBA career, a point of constant mockery and meme fodder. But on Nov. 20, Simmons finally hit a trey and the reaction was such you’d have thought it was a title-winning shot.
• On Dec. 12, former NBA commissioner David Stern was rushed to the hospital because of a brain hemorrhage.
• The best non-playoff Raptors win of the season came on Dec. 22 when they managed to come back from a 30-point deficit to stun the Dallas Mavericks and earn a thrilling 110-107 victory, fuelled by a ridiculous 47-point fourth quarter.
• And on Dec. 25, many Raptors fan got their wish to see their team host a Christmas Day game. Sure, Toronto got bombed out by 16, but at least it got the great honour of playing on the marquee NBA day, right?
• I think we all kind of knew that the year 2020 was going to absolutely suck by the way it started with the passing of Stern at 77 years of age.
A true titan in the sporting world, for better or for worse, without Stern the modern NBA as we know it now wouldn’t exist.
• On Jan. 22, No. 1-overall pick Zion Williamson made his much-anticipated NBA debut after being forced to miss the opening portion of the season with a knee injury. It was worth the wait as he scored 22 points, 17 alone coming in the fourth quarter and nearly single-handedly winning the contest for the Pelicans, who just didn’t have enough against the San Antonio Spurs that evening.
• Despite the bright spot of Williamson’s debut, January was, overall, a tragic month in the NBA with not only the passing of Stern, but also the death of Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash on Jan. 26.
The suddenness of it all and Bryant’s overwhelming popularity – even after he retired from the game – shook the entire basketball world and tributes poured in from all around the world.
And due to the extraordinary circumstances, the game scheduled between the Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers on Jan. 28 was postponed because the players were in deep grief.
James, in particular, was heavily affected by Bryant’s sudden passing. The Lakers legend had tweeted congratulations to James for overtaking him for third on the NBA’s scoring list on the eve of his death.
Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother #33644
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) January 26, 2020
• On Feb. 10, the Raptors beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 137-126 to set a franchise and Canadian professional sports record of 15 straight wins, a feat that appeared to finally give them to the attention they were probably missing out on in yet another stellar season – even without Kawhi Leonard.
15 in a row!!!
— Kendrick Perkins (@KendrickPerkins) February 11, 2020
• NBA all-star weekend this year was one of the best in recent memory.
Raptors forward Pascal Siakam was named an all-star for the first time in his career – voted in as a starter, no less. All-star Saturday night was one to remember because of the incredible dunk duel between Aaron Gordan and Derrick Jones Jr. – where Gordon was robbed again – and, of course, the main event on Sunday was absolutely spectacular with the format change to an Elam Ending providing the kind of ultra-competitive fireworks fans had only dreamt of.
And over the course of the entire weekend, Bryant and Stern were honoured in every part of the presentation. It was awesome.
• On Feb. 24, Bryant’s funeral was held. During the service, we heard many heartfelt eulogies from names like Shaquille O’Neal, Michael Jordan, Sabrina Ionescu and even Beyonce.
Of all the speeches given, the one given by Vanessa Bryant was the most poignant as she showed tremendous strength in delivering a beautiful eulogy for the love of her life and her daughter.
• A day that will never be forgotten in NBA history is March 11, 2020, when it was discovered that Rudy Gobert tested positive for the novel coronavirus before a game set to take place between the Utah Jazz and Oklahoma City Thunder.
As a result, the NBA decided to postpone the game as well as one between the Pelicans and Sacramento Kings. Following this Band-Aid solution, the NBA made the earth-shattering decision to suspend its season until further notice, becoming the first major sports league to do so because of COVID-19.
Though accidental, Gobert testing positive — and the subsequent news that his teammate Donovan Mitchell, Nets star Kevin Durant and the death of Karl-Anthony Towns’ mother from the disease — helped put into perspective how serious COVID-19 really was.
• During the early phases of the pandemic, with no one really knowing if a season would be completed or not, there was a lot of reflection offered as many news outlets – this one included – were operating under the worst-case scenario. But then, on May 23, the NBA announced its intent to restart the season and, ultimately, try to crown a champion. There would be NBA basketball again at some point.
• Just two days after the NBA made this announcement, however, George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by a Minneapolis police officer, drawing attention to the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery as well and sparking protests around the world against anti-Black racism and in pursuit of racial justice and equality.
NBA players like Jaylen Brown and Malcolm Brogdon joined these protests and players questioned if resuming the season amid this social unrest was the right thing to do.
• On June 26, the NBA officially unveiled its restart plan that would see the league bring just 22 teams to a Walt Disney World bubble to play an eight-game regular-season schedule and a normal playoffs.
Included in this restart plan was stringent COVID-19 testing and a promise to give players a platform to address social justice issues such as having the “Black Lives Matter” slogan painted on the court and to have social justice messages on the back of players’ jerseys.
• The Raptors, in particular, embraced the fight for social justice with Rondae Hollis-Jefferson challenging the media to direct question to those matters, Norman Powell expressing frustration with the limited choices of social justice messages the league provided and the team even driving through Florida on its way into Disney World on buses with “Black Lives Matter” proudly emblazoned on the side of them in big bold letters.
• On July 30, the NBA season officially restarted with a matchup between the Jazz and Pelicans followed by a Lakers-Clippers showdown.
The basketball, all around, was fantastic with competitive games in nearly every matchup and fun stories that emerged such as Damian Lillard willing the Blazers into the playoffs, Devin Booker showing just how talented a player he is and T.J. Warren going on a tear to allow his Indiana Pacers to steal the No. 4 seed from the Miami Heat.
• The first round of the playoffs got going in August with the clear highlight series coming from the Western Conference with a pair of seven-game gems between the Rockets and Oklahoma Thunder and Denver Nuggets and Jazz.
In both cases, Canadians shined with Luguentz Dort doing as good a job as you’re probably going to see defending James Harden, and Jamal Murray helping the Nuggets come back from down 3-1 with a pair of 50-point games that saw him duelling with Mitchell all series long.
• Perhaps the biggest moment of entire NBA season came on Aug. 26 when the Milwaukee Bucks decided to boycott their playoff game with the Orlando Magic in the wake of the shooting of Black man Jacob Blake by the police in Kenosha, Wisc.
This moment forced the NBA to postpone playoff games for the next few days as the league and the players worked together to restart the season again with a renewed focus on social justice. More than that, however, this action from the Bucks sparked other leagues to follow suit in postponing games.
A powerful gesture by the Bucks that made the world stop and take notice as players used the power of protest to force reflection once again for at least few more days.
• The season resumed this month and it would give us some of the best basketball seen all season long to boot with a fantastic second round of playoffs.
In the East, Jimmy Butler and the Heat stunned the top-seeded Bucks and their back-to-back MVP and defensive player of the year Giannis Antetokounmpo, beating them in five games. The Raptors and Boston Celtics’ first meeting in the post-season was everything we could’ve asked for, going seven games with an incredible buzzer-beater from OG Anunoby in Game 3.
Out West, while the Lakers-Rockets series was a snoozer for L.A., the other Los Angeles team failed to meet expectations as Murray and Nuggets came back from 3-1 once again to stun the Clippers
• The conference finals were less exciting with the Lakers booking their tickets to the Finals in five games – although Murray did have a monster Game 3 to will Denver to a win in that contest.
In the Eastern Conference Finals, Miami won in six games thanks largely to the monster series that Bam Adebayo was enjoying, along with the emergence of rookie sharpshooter Tyler Herro.
• This month was all about the NBA Finals, and what a Finals it was. Despite looking largely overmatched – especially with injuries to Adebayo and Goran Dragic in Game 1 – Miami made a series of it thanks to two legendary performances from Butler in Games 3 and 5.
In the end, though, the dynamic duo of James and Anthony Davis earned the Lakers their 17th championship in franchise history. A fitting end given the tragedy that occurred back in January.
• Now the NBA faces an uncertain off-season with only the date of the draft known – Nov. 18. There’s been no concrete indication yet of when free agency might be, let alone when next season would start and what it might look like.