October typically means the end of baseball, the start of NBA basketball, the beginning of college basketball pre-season hype, and of course the end of my fantasy football team’s playoff aspirations. The 2020 sports calendar however is unprecedented, and we are just now seeing how championships of big-time pro sports are going to be received. A few months ago it was a very fair question – would winning a title this year count? Would it mean anything to the fans? Here’s where we stand today.
We have our first real COVID champs, the Los Angeles Lakers! (Yes, thanks, I am in fact fully aware that the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup a few weeks ago. Doesn’t count. Sorry). The pre-season title favorites (or at least one of the 3 co-favorites) won the crown with an impressive playoff run that included only one loss in each of their first 2 series, and 4 L’s overall, despite a challenging schedule that included Portland and the then-red-hot Damian Lillard, a tough, balanced Nuggets team that had looked scary-good in taking out the Clippers, and a Miami Heat team that easily blew through the Eastern Conference playoffs and felt a team of destiny for about 5 minutes there.
LeBron was LeBron, Anthony Davis was largely unstoppable, and Championship Banner number 17 will fly proudly in the Staples Center next season.
As it should.
Sure, the stop-and-start nature of the season threw things into a bit of disarray, and Bucks and Clippers fans are left wondering how different the playoffs might have turned out had COVID not been around, but at the end of the day an elite team won, and when LeBron’s legacy is debated (as it will be endlessly), I don’t expect title number 4 to be discounted because of the road the Lakers took to get there. Except maybe by die-hard Michael Jordan fans. Just because.
Major League Baseball is on the road to the World Series and so far the road has been smoother than expected. October baseball is always special, and this year has been no exception. It’s not the same without the crowds of course, but this year’s second season has still been compelling theater. We’ve had the arrival of young stars like Fernando Tatis, Jr. and Randy Arozarena, incredible moments like Clay Bellinger’s home-run robbing catch to secure a big Dodgers win and a couple absolute moonshots by a resurgent Giancarlo Stanton, as well as continued dominance by proven postseason studs like George Springer and Carlos Correa.
The League Championship series are set, and in the National League we have arguably the best possible matchup with inarguably the two best teams, the Dodgers and Braves. Los Angeles has been the best team in baseball since day 1 of this season. They have been to two Fall Classics in the last 3 years and added Mookie Betts last offseason. They beat a mediocre Brewers team in the first round and then a very talented Padres team in what I expect to be the first of several playoff battles over the next few years. The Braves had no trouble with either the Reds (who scored as many runs in their series as the Washington Senators did, and they stopped playing in 1960) or the Marlins, who amazingly suffered the franchise’s first EVER playoff series loss. Atlanta is 5-0 in the playoffs with 4 shutouts. Even against sub-par competition, that’s pretty impressive. The Dodgers are a solid favorite to win the series.
In the American League the matchup is also appealing, as the Evil Astros go up against the plucky Tampa Bay Rays and their 11 fans nationwide. Houston was a below .500 team during the shortened regular season and with key injuries to Justin Verlander and Yordan Alvarez, their playoff run was expected to be a short one. The same can’t be said about the Rays, who were one of the most consistently good teams all year, and have the best pitching staff you’ve likely never heard of. Both teams earned their way to a shot at the pennant, getting through the West-winning A’s and the slugging Yankees respectively, and though neither Houston nor Tampa Bay have a huge national following, the fact that the Rays are trying to win their first ever Series, and that baseball fans are still pretty angry about the Astros’ cheating scandal, these games should attract significant fan interest. Baseball couldn’t have scripted things much better (although the Yankees finding their way into the ALCS would have definitely helped the TV ratings).
Hey, it’s still really early, and nobody knows if a champion will even be crowned in 2021, but the season feels completely legitimate so far. The early hiccups (a number of Titans players, Cam Newton and others testing positive for COVID) are certainly a cause for concern, but even with the most insane Presidential election in the history of politics looming over all aspects of the culture, the American people have clearly not forgotten about their love of the NFL.
Each week seems to bring a few re-scheduled games, and injuries are playing an even larger role this season than usual, but so far we haven’t seen massive outbreaks that would threaten the league’s ability to operate, and the storylines of the season are settling into place nicely. There’s the top teams (Chiefs, Ravens, Steelers) looking dominant, QB super-stars (Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers) looking like MVP candidates, surprising teams we don’t know what to make of (the 4-0 Bears, the 1-3 Cowboys), and we haven’t seen anything that would make a 2021 Super Bowl ring seem inauthentic. That said, if you see one on sale on ebay next year for $50.00, there’s a good chance it is, in fact, a fake.
Two major championships have been played and there should be no asterisk attached to either. Dominic Theim won his first major by winning a 5 set classic at the US Open, and Rafael Nadal beat Novak Djokovic in the finals of the French, just as he almost surely would have back in May had COVID not gotten in the way. There’s an old sports cliché that says the hardest thing to do in sports is hit a baseball. Whoever came up with that one clearly has never tried to beat Rafael Nadal at Stade Roland Garros. He’s now won 13 times at the French Open, and his record there is 100-2.
On the women’s side, Naomi Osaka looked like the best female player in the world at Flushing Meadow and certainly earned her 2nd US Open Title, and Iga Swiatek beat Sofia Kenin in the French Open finals. If you know who Sofia Kenin is, you’re clearly a tennis fan. If you knew who Iga Swiatek was before this tournament, well…how old were you when you met her? Did you go to grammar school together or something?
So what does it all mean? For most fans, a ring is a ring, a banner is a banner, and a 2020/2021 title will not be disregarded as a fraud simply because the sports world is enduring a year from Hades like everyone and everything else. About all we could hope for as sports fans, no? We want to watch the games, and care about them. So far so good.
Commercial Real Estate Broker/Sports Fan
Staff writer at Six Feet Apart, commercial real estate broker for CBRE, Inc., and most importantly, a father of two.