Purple and gold confetti shot out from the sidelines, blanketing a Lakers team that had persevered through the unimaginable with the punctation they had been fighting for over a seemingly never-ending 12-month marathon.
LeBron James held trophies for the NBA championship and the Finals MVP on either side of his hips, shimmying back and forth while flashing a giant smile. Anthony Davis was doubled over, choking back tears.
There was champagne. So much champagne that James refused to head into the locker room without goggles, saying in a video captured by a reporter, "No sir, they're not about to spray me in my f---ing eyes." Kyle Kuzma imbibed so much that when he was asked to describe how he was feeling, he said he didn't even know how to act. And Davis similarly couldn't remember the conversation he had with his father an hour earlier.
The Lakers had just beat the Miami Heat in Game 6 of the Finals, 106-93, winning their 17th NBA championship. They are now tied with the Boston Celtics for the most titles in franchise history.
It was a giant sigh of relief for the darling of the league, which had missed the playoffs six straight seasons and had a 10-year championship drought.
The Lakers were nearly flawless in the first half, swarming the Heat with a debilitating and demoralizing defense. They led by 28 points at halftime, 64-36, the second-largest halftime lead in NBA Finals history.
Just how dominant were they over that period?
They Lakers had 34 points in the paint. The Heat had 36 points in total.
Their death grip never let up, as they pushed that lead to as much as 36 points, turning a scrappy and indefatigable Heat team into a downtrodden and lifeless bunch.
After what he repeatedly called the most difficult and longest season of his 17-year career, LeBron James, 35, was a freight train, using his 250-pound frame to fly through lanes —and bodies—to impose his will on a stunned and helpless Heat team. He won his fourth NBA championship with three different franchises, finishing with 28 points, 14 rebounds and 10 assists.
And he was unanimously named the Finals MVP, his fourth such award.
James had tried to prove himself to the dubious Lakers' fanbase the last two seasons. This accomplishment meant something to him. This time was different.
"This is a historic franchise and to be a part of this is something that I'll be able to talk about and my grandkids and kids will be able to talk about; their pawpaw played for the Los Angeles Lakers," James said. "It's like playing for the Yankees and winning or playing for the Cowboys and winning a Super Bowl, or the Patriots. It's like playing for the Red Sox. So to be able to win with a historical franchise is something that, no matter if your mind wavers away, you can always remember what you're doing it for."
Davis, who had never made it past the second round of the playoffs in his first seven seasons in the league, dominated in the paint on both ends of the court, using his 7-foot-6 wingspan to obstruct shots, clog lanes and intimidate. He had 19 points and 15 rebounds.
Rajon Rondo, who has continually denied the existence of Playoff Rondo, once again proved himself a liar. He didn't miss any of his six shots in the first half, finishing with 19 points on 8-for-11 shooting.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope yet again was the dark horse of this series, spreading the court with 17 points. And Alex Caruso, who went from being a mainstay on the Lakers' G-League team to starting for the first time this postseason in Game 6, changed the whole tenor of the Lakers' defense, finishing with the highest plus-minus (+20) rating of anyone on the floor.
It was a complete team effort by a squad that's pulled themselves through incredible lows this season with their genuine bond and unflappable chemistry.
The ultimate prize for a team that's continually been tested, from preseason drama in China following Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeting in support of protestors in Hong Kong, to profound grief following Kobe Bryant's death, to shock and fear after NBA commissioner Adam Silver paused the season for four months because of a pandemic, to anger and resolve amid the fight for social justice, to loneliness and exhaustion while playing in a bubble near Orlando for over 100 days.
How about an exclamation mark.
James acknowledged that he questioned leaving the NBA bubble. Heck, the Lakers came darn close to it after the Milwaukee Bucks declined to take the court after Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot by police officers on Aug. 23 in Kenosha, WI.
"At times I was questioning myself, should I be here?" James said. "Is this worth sacrificing my family? So many things. I've never been without my family this long. Missing the days of my daughter being in kindergarten, even though it's through Zoom. Missing my son's 16th birthday, which we all know is a big birthday if you have kids. Seeing my middle child continue to grow and be who he is."
But he stuck it through, ultimately fulfilling a promise that he had made after Bryant's death when he vowed to carry on his legacy.
Lakers' general manager Rob Pelinka, who was Bryant's longtime agent and close friend, said he felt as though Bryant were with the team all season.
"When you're in a bubble for a hundred days, it's tough," Pelinka said. "There would be times in the middle of the night, I would hear his voice: 'Stay the course. Finish the task.' To be able to have a friend who changed my life and helped me understand what greatness was about and sacrifice was about, there's not many greater gifts."
It was a stunning and emphatic ending to a season that was filled with so much anguish and uncertainty.
The Lakers did it.
Now, they'll have some questions going forward.
None bigger than Davis becoming a free agent. When asked about his plans, he was noncommittal.
"I had a great time in L.A. this first year," Davis said with goggles on top of his head. "This has been nothing but joy, nothing but amazement. Over the next couple of months, we'll figure it out. I mean, I'm not 100 percent sure, but that's why my agent is who he is and we'll discuss it and figure it out."
This much is for sure.
Davis was elated after Game 6.
Well, during it to be precise.
"About 25 seconds left, that feeling just turned into reality -- I was 25 seconds from becoming a champion," Davis said. "I got emotional. It's the type of journey that I've been on, my team has been on, the organization has been on. It all came just full circle with this championship. So I just got real emotional. [James] was bothering me, saying, 'You're soft. Oh, you crybaby.' I walked to the back, and there was a banner trophy. I kind of grabbed it. Then we walked back out to the court. It was an unbelievable feeling, and just an emotional moment for me."
James may have ribbed his friend.
But he was feeling it too.
After the win, he puffed on a victory cigar while speaking to the media.
In between plumes of smoke, James talked about how much this title meant to him.
"This is right up there with one of the greatest accomplishments I've had," he said.