The Most Defining Moments of the NBA Season

From Kobe Bryant tributes to Zion Williamson's debut, here are the most defining moments from this NBA season.
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In what is usually a busy time in the NBA calendar, games have now been halted for a week. The coronavirus and Rudy Gobert’s diagnosis initiated a ripple effect among sports leagues, all following the NBA’s lead and suspending or canceling seasons.

The 2019-20 NBA regular season is suspended for at least 30 days, but COVID-19 developments may make it difficult to start prior to mid-June. As of Thursday morning, seven NBA players had tested positive for coronavirus, in addition to one from the NHL and two from the Yankees’ minor league team. Adam Silver says he believes this season can be salvaged and is even considering a charity game among healthy players before competitive contests can resume.

In the meantime, players and fans alike are eagerly awaiting the NBA’s return. As many find themselves quarantined during the league’s hiatus, Ja Morant has stayed busy working on his game entrances while Trae Young has practiced for the three-point contest with rolled-up socks.

The future impact of COVID-19 cannot be predicted, and neither can what is in store for the rest of the 2019-20 NBA season. In the meantime, fans can look back at the standout moments of the year so far.

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Hanashiro-USA TODAY Sports

Kobe Bryant Tributes

The NBA was rocked by the news of Kobe Bryant’s death. The NBA legend’s sudden passing, along with his daughter, Gianna, and seven others in a helicopter crash, was something players did not have much time to process. No games were postponed outside the Lakers’ meeting with the Clippers, but many players showed love for Bryant on the court.

From Trae Young’s 45-point performance to sneaker tributes to No. 8 and 24 personal jersey retirements, Bryant’s presence was felt throughout the league. LeBron James’s words to the Staples Center crowd capped off an emotional week.

Bryant was also honored at All-Star Weekend, where various tributes were performed.

The 2019-20 season cannot be mentioned without Bryant’s death, and the Mamba Mentality he ignited within the league is a memory not to be forgotten.

The All-Star Game Elam Ending

The seemingly unattainable goal of making the All-Star game interesting was reached this year. The league implemented charitable benefits after each quarter to motivate players in addition to the Elam ending, which shut off the clock and allowed teams to play to a goal score.

After three quarters of play, 24 points—in honor of Bryant—were added to the leading team’s total to create the target score to attain. While the fourth quarter was lengthy, it was exciting, competitive and came down to the wire.

The Elam ending provided a successful formula that was just what the All-Star game needed and should stick around for seasons to come.

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

Zion Williamson’s Debut

After he missed over half of the regular season, Zion Williamson’s NBA debut resulted in MVP chants. It was difficult to anticipate what the No. 1 overall pick would look like after his lengthy recovery from a meniscus injury, and at first, it looked as if his debut was going to be a dud. Williamson scored just five points in a slow first three quarters, but once the fourth quarter hit, he started firing.

Williamson went on to hit four open three-pointers, leading the Pelicans to within one point of a game they had mostly trailed to the Spurs. The crowd got behind Williamson’s momentum as he dropped 17 points in the fourth quarter, but that ended as he was benched during crunch time and the team lost. He finished with 22 points, seven rebounds, three assists and five turnovers in his 18 minutes, and while he was still figuring out what worked for him on the court that night, he went on to break the 20-point mark 16 times and 30-point mark three times in 19 games played this season.

He may not be able to win Rookie of the Year over Ja Morant, but Williamson made his debut fun by giving the NBA a taste of what he can accomplish and how quickly he can impact a game.

Giannis Antetokounmpo Responding to Criticism

The reigning MVP has led the Milwaukee Bucks in a historic season, but that has not stopped others from criticizing him.

James Harden made headlines when he said what Giannis Antetokounmpo does “takes no skill at all.” The two have long traded jabs, with the latest comments coming after Antetokounmpo poked fun at Harden during the All-Star game draft, saying he needs a teammate that passes the ball.

"I wish I could just run and be seven feet [tall] and just dunk," Harden said. "I gotta actually learn how to play basketball, how to have skill. I take that any day."

The next game after Harden’s comments, Antetokounmpo made his statement on the hardwood, recording 32 points, 13 rebounds and six assists.

This likely will not be the end of the Harden-Antetokounmpo beef, but it was an entertaining highlight.

Zach LaVine’s 13 Three-Pointers

The Bulls’ Zach LaVine went supernova in one of the best performances of the 2019-20 season. He nearly made history on Nov. 23, tying the NBA record for second-most three-pointers made in a game with 13. He now shares the title with Stephen Curry and sits behind Klay Thompson’s record 14 three-pointers in 2018.

Not only did he make it rain with his 49 points, but his 13th three-pointer doubled as Chicago’s game-winner. A steal off the Hornets’ inbounds pass set him up for the moment.

LaVine’s performance came less than a day after he was benched in-game against the Miami Heat. The Bulls quickly fell behind 13-0 in the contest and LaVine did not see the court again. The next day, he went 13-of-17 from behind the arc in 35 minutes of play.

The Bulls have not made headlines this season, but LaVine’s performance—capped off by the game-winner—was one to remember.

Lakers Defeat Bucks and Clippers

The Lakers gave a preview of what could be a fun postseason with their victories over the league-leading Bucks and Clippers in one weekend.

Behind James and Anthony Davis, the Lakers put up consecutive statement victories prior to the NBA season’s suspension. James has made an argument for MVP against Antetokounmpo, including in the Lakers’ meeting against the reigning MVP in a potential Finals preview.

NBA fans would be happy to see any basketball game, but a meeting between the Lakers and Bucks or Clippers in the postseason has proven that it would not disappoint.