ORLANDO • It was not a season. For the Los Angeles Lakers, it was an obstacle course. It was 12 months packed with tragedies and togetherness.
It was unprecedented and often unpleasant, an odyssey that began for them in a Chinese hotel amid a geopolitical feud and ended in a mostly empty arena at Disney World, the site of the world's most famous bubble since the invention of chewing gum.
But for all the disruptive forces that rocked the National Basketball Association (NBA), the Lakers triumphed in the end.
They won their 17th championship - and their first with LeBron James as their centrepiece - with a 106-93 victory over the Miami Heat on Sunday night in Game 6, claiming the Finals 4-2.
There were no spectators - one of the hard realities of competing for a title in a pandemic that forced the NBA to suspend its season for more than four months before play resumed in late July.
The Lakers, however, went about their business in isolation, winning it all as fans cheered from home.
"It doesn't matter where it happens if you win a championship," James said with a victory cigar in his hand. "A bubble, Miami, Golden State - it doesn't matter. When you get to this point, it's one of the greatest feelings in the world for a basketball player to be able to win at the highest level."
No player was more brilliant than James, who, at 35, was named the Finals Most Valuable Player for the fourth time in his career.
After making his ninth trip to the finals in the past 10 seasons, and his 10th appearance overall, James has now won four championships with three franchises.
He powered Sunday's rout - the Lakers led by as many as 36 - with 28 points, 14 boards and 10 assists.
For the series, he averaged 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists while shooting 59 per cent from the field to help his team shrug off the effects of the NBA's longest season.
Last October, a pre-season trip to China turned into an international incident when Daryl Morey, the Houston Rockets' general manager, tweeted his support for Hong Kong's pro-democracy protesters, angering the Chinese government and restricting the Lakers to their hotel for days.
Then, the unimaginable happened on Jan 26 when Lakers icon Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among nine people who died in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles.
The season was later indefinitely halted due to the pandemic and as the hiatus dragged on, protests against police brutality and racial injustice roiled the country.
Yet, through it all - calamities, big and small - the Lakers remained determined to chase the franchise's first championship since 2010, which was also Bryant's last of his five titles.
Lakers forward Anthony Davis, who had 19 points and 15 rebounds on Sunday, dedicated his first championship to him, saying: "Kobe, I know he's looking down on us super proud.
"We miss him... He would come to the game and just tell us, 'This is y'all year. Go out and take it.' He had a lot of confidence in our team, in our organisation to go out there and win it this year."
The Lakers are not a perfect team. At a time when outside shooting has never been more valued, they were mediocre from the three-point range, shooting 34.9 per cent during the regular season.
But in James and Davis, they have two dominant forces on a roster full of players willing to defend.
After ranking third in overall defence during the regular season, the Lakers were still able to compensate for the absence of Avery Bradley, their top perimeter defender, after he opted out of the restart.
They had failed to reach the play-offs in six straight seasons before this year, but the ball started to roll after James arrived on a four-year contract in the summer of 2018.
There was still to be more upheaval - the Lakers had to parlay some young talent and a number of future draft picks to acquire Davis a year later.
They also had to deal with the firing of previous coach Luke Walton and the departure of president of basketball operations Magic Johnson over "backstabbing" claims.
However, Davis, the influence of first-year coach Frank Vogel, who "got on us Day 1 about defence", and a fired-up James, irked by questions over his durability - he had missed 27 games the previous season due to injury - got them over the line.
On Sunday, James left on top. After a season full of tumult and change, at least that much was familiar.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, NYTIMES