Nearly 25 seconds remained on the clock before Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis could proclaim himself a champion. But for a pla...
Nearly 25 seconds remained on the clock before Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis could proclaim himself a champion. But for a player who strives to compete for a full 48 minutes, he could not help but already think ahead.
So shortly before the Lakers cemented a 106-93 win over the Miami Heat on Sunday in a decisive Game 6 of the NBA Finals, Davis already shed tears. LeBron James could not help but call him “soft” and a “crybaby,” one of many examples why James and Davis likened their dynamic to the comedy, ‘Stepbrothers.”
Moments later, though, James hugged Davis tightly and remembered what it was like to win his first NBA title with the Miami Heat in 2012. Once the buzzer sounded, Davis then did the same thing with his father, Anthony Sr. They expressed their love for each other. Then Davis told his dad, “This is why we work; this is why we grind.”
“It all came just full circle with this championship. So I just got real emotional,” Davis said after finishing with 19 points and 15 rebounds. “It was an unbelievable feeling, and just an emotional moment for me.”
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Davis said those words while wearing both a Lakers championship T-Shirt and hat. The outfit symbolized why the Lakers acquired Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans last summer for Brandon Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and three draft picks. The outfit also symbolized why Davis’ agent, Rich Paul, publicly called for the Pelicans to trade him to the Lakers at the beginning of last year.
“It just makes it all worth it. It was tough times, but I’m a champion,” Davis said. “When I got traded, that’s all I wanted was to be a champion, to be able to compete and be able to win. I was able to do that my first year with the Lakers.”
Yet, the outfit also contrasted the taste and substance of what Davis wore during his last game in New Orleans. As he sat on the bench nursing back spasms, Davis wore a white T-shirt with the words, “That’s All Folks!”
Davis insisted there was no hidden meaning behind the shirt and even contended that an assistant laid out the wardrobe for him. Nonetheless, it signified the end of an ugly chapter after spending his first seven years with the Pelicans failing to advance past the second round in two playoff appearances (2015, 2018).
“It was obviously rocky,” Davis said. “We were going back and forth at each other and getting booed, and everything like that. I think being there in that moment while I was still part of the team, going out there playing, it kind of got me ready for a moment like this.”
Those frustrations became a forgotten memory within a year.
Shortly after the Lakers acquired Davis, James proclaimed to the front office and coaching staff that Davis should become the team’s primary focal point. After the Lakers rounded out their supporting cast with strong shooters, wing defenders and front-court depth, Davis and James then strategized how to make the puzzle fit.
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“We were just talking about trying to figure out the team, the guys that we wanted around us to compete for a championship,” Davis said. “After the team was completed, then we started talking about, we got enough to be champions.”
While James followed through on his words with a league-leading 10.2 assists, Davis logged 29 double-doubles and five 40-point performances in the regular season. While James bolstered the Lakers with his playmaking and scoring, Davis bolstered the Lakers with his post presence and defense.
“I want AD to be better than me,” James said. “AD wants me to be better than him. Every single night, every single day. And we challenge ourselves.”
So even if James and Davis hung out at each other’s houses, left the arena together and endlessly cracked jokes about the other, they often remained honest with each other. Occasionally, that emerged on the court when the two shared frustrations about mistakes. Often, those moments happened behind the scenes and never materialized into any serious problems.
“It’s not always sweet and smooth, but it gets the job done,” Davis said. “You’re going to have confrontations and arguments throughout the season to win a championship. We had our fair share. But at the end of the day, we respect one another. We respect what each one is trying to do. I respect his game, he respects my game and we just put it all together.”
That dynamic helped in the postseason. After showing uneven play during the season restart and the playoffs, Davis learned how to take his dominance to another level. In Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals against the Denver Nuggets, Davis made a game-winning 3-pointer that he dedicated to Kobe Bryant. In the NBA Finals? Davis would have made Bryant proud.
In Game 6, Davis looked spry only two days after aggravating a right heel contusion and feeling soreness in his left ankle that kept him limited in crunch time in Game 5. In Game 4, Davis kept Jimmy Butler to a 1-for-7 clip and made a dagger 3-pointer to cement the win two days after delivering a clunker in Game 3. Before that, Davis became an early favorite for Finals MVP by averaging 33 points, 11.5 rebounds and 1.5 blocks in Games 1 and 2.
That proved not enough to win Finals MVP. That honor went to James, who had 28 points on 13-for-20 shooting along with 14 rebounds and 10 assists in Game 6. For the series, James averaged 29.8 points, 11.8 rebounds and 8.5 assists. Yet, that hardly caused friction afterward.
Said Davis: “There’s no jealousy. No one is envious of each other. Guys don’t have personal agendas. We’re just two guys who just want to win for various reasons.”
Said James: “The first thing I think about is the respect, the no ego, the challenging each other. We want each other to be better than actually ourselves.”
And why would it? James wanted Anthony on his team both to help him win an NBA title and to help reduce his workload during the latter part of his NBA career.
James first became intrigued with Davis during his lone season at University of Kentucky. Then James concluded that Davis “was just beyond the best player in college basketball” because of his positional versatility, ball handling, rim protection and speed. When Davis joined the U.S. Olympic team for the 2012 London Games, James respected that Davis arrived with “a sponge mentality” that listened to him, Bryant, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony.
“He soaked up everything,” James said. “He was not a rookie that came in and thought he knew it all.”
Davis gave James the same impression during his first seven seasons in New Orleans. Then, Davis averaged 23.7 points, 10.5 rebounds and 2.4 blocks through seven seasons while making six All-Star appearances, winning an All-Star MVP and leading the NBA in blocks in three separate seasons (2014, 2015, 2018). So on December 2018, James told ESPN “that would be incredible” if the Lakers acquired Davis in a trade.
That comment might be obvious, but it sent a message to the Lakers front office about making a move to the trade deadline. The Lakers could not acquire Davis from New Orleans before the trade deadline, however, which put James in an awkward position with his young teammates that were all on the trading block.
“I was speaking just true from the heart and from a basketball mindset,” James said. “I paid for it, for that moment. But I didn’t care, because I just know how special he is.”
James soon had his wish. With the Pelicans firing Dell Demps as general manager shortly after the trade deadline, Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka found a more willing trade partner with David Griffin once the season ended.
Nearly 16 months later, Davis helped deliver the Lakers their first NBA title since 2010 and James his fourth title. So what’s next?
Davis remained noncommittal on his potential free agency, but it appears that has more to do with figuring out the correct terms because of a diminished salary cap than any real possibility he will leave L.A. While James has not slowed down much and still has two years left on his contract, he turns 36 in December and will enter his 18th season.
Regardless, Davis sounded determined to keep wearing NBA title memorabilia after spending the previous year positioning himself to collect one.
“It’s just part of your legacy, to say you’re a champion. Not everybody can say that,” Davis said. “Teams are going to come after you next year, especially when you’re one of the top players. Guys want to take out the champion. The next four or five years, you have to get better and better. I have to keep improving my game and hopefully I can have this feeling again.”