LOS ANGELES — It sparkled from the sequins in Jeanie Buss’ coat. The heels of LeBron James’ shoes shined with it.
But the most dazzling display came from the 11 pedestals stationed at midcourt at Staples Center, with golf-ball-sized championship rings shimmering under the spotlights. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope kissed his before he removed it from its black case
The Lakers know how well gold goes with everything.
The franchise celebrated its 17th championship on Tuesday night in a largely empty building, but while it lacked the roar of approving fans, it made up for it with intimacy – and a healthy dose of gilded accoutrements. Wearing white warm-up shirts that read “19-20 Champions,” the franchise spared little expense and effort making the night memorable in the ways that these pandemic-impacted times allow.
“We miss you so much,” team owner Buss said to fans watching from television screens across the country. “The team misses you. But someday soon, we’ll be together, and when we are together, we have something special to celebrate.”
The gaudiest symbols of the Lakers’ 2019-20 campaign were the rings themselves, adorned with 805 stones of white and yellow diamonds and purple amethyst, set in 14 karat gold. According to the team, the rings have more carats of diamonds than any other ring in NBA history. Other details, such as the snakeskin texture (for Kobe Bryant, the Black Mamba) and the team’s postseason slogan “Leave a Legacy,” tell the story of the Lakers’ season – the longest in NBA history.
Head coach Frank Vogel raised a triumphant fist to the ceiling after putting on his own. Davis fanned his hands toward his teammates. General Manager Rob Pelinka held up two fingers on one hand and four on the other in tribute to the late Bryant. James posed for the handful of photographers down on the court floor, holding up four fingers for each of his title rings – so far.
At least one element was held in reserve: The 17th championship banner was hung on the wall, but remains covered up by a black banner that read, “STAY TUNED, LAKERS FAMILY”. Commissioner Adam Silver, who came to present the rings, promised another installment to the celebration when Staples Center can once again host fans.
While players could not invite their families to sit in the stands for the season opener and the ring ceremony, the jumbotron played pre-recorded messages and tributes from them. Video messages of parents, wives and children from their living rooms had players craning their necks to the screen to watch.
Among the highlights were Giannis Antetokounmpo, the two-time league MVP, congratulating younger brother Kostas on winning the family’s first ring; Alex Caruso’s parents, longtime bubble residents themselves, telling them how proud they were; students from James’ I Promise School chiming in alongside his three children.
These moments tugged at the heartstrings, like when Justus Dudley told his father Jared via video message: “I love you, Dad. I’m proud of you. And you inspire me to follow my dreams.”
In a normal year, the ring ceremony would have been the crowning moment of months of being showered with praise, from a parade in downtown Los Angeles to numerous lavish parties and giddy public appearances. That has been mostly taken from them.
“Grocery stores, Target, things like that, people would just come up and say ‘thank you’ for what we were able to do,” Vogel said. “But it’s just obviously not as much as if we were at normal times.”
Some Lakers, who have moved on via trades or free agency, weren’t even granted the privilege of being at Staples Center for the presentation, but Buss thanked them all by name: JaVale McGee, Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, Danny Green, Avery Bradley, Troy Daniels, Dion Waiters, JR Smith and DeMarcus Cousins.
Seconds after some final on-court remarks by Vogel, the Lakers cleared away the tables and put the rings back in their boxes. For the organization, it was a turning of the page: On to the pursuit of the next one.
“Please know, on behalf of the best fans in the league, our mission is clear,” Buss said, “to defend our trophy.”
— NBA (@NBA) December 23, 2020
Pelinka showing Kobe love pic.twitter.com/0Bp09LzeFd
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) December 23, 2020
So many details on these Lakers rings
Most expensive ring in NBA title history
Mamba snake behind players’ numbers to honor Kobe
Removable top to reveal retired Lakers jerseys, with special emphasis on Kobe’s
— ESPN (@espn) December 23, 2020
From start to finish. There's nothing like a championship ring. pic.twitter.com/sHylEun1EM
— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) December 23, 2020