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Opinion: Asterisk on this year's NBA champ? Only if you want to signify how tough this will be

Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) says beating LeBron James (23) and the Lakers or anyone else in Floirda will make for "the toughest championship you could ever win." [Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports]
Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo (34) says beating LeBron James (23) and the Lakers or anyone else in Floirda will make for "the toughest championship you could ever win." [Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports]

The NBA restart has given us a whole new vernacular.

We're talking about "the bubble" and "seeding games" and "substitute players" these days. None of those are foreign words or phrases, of course, but we don't normally use them when talking about professional basketball.

Then again, these aren't normal days.

That has brought another word into the NBA-restart conversation — asterisk.

Pundits, both professional and amateur, have started debating whether the team that eventually emerges as the 2020 NBA champion should carry an asterisk. A mark that distinguishes the title as different and diminishes it as less than.

It's ridiculous.

"We're all high-level basketball players, the best in the world," Thunder guard Shai Gilgeous-Alexander said Wednesday when asked the asterisk question, "and no matter the outside circumstances, we still have to play basketball and put the basketball in the bucket more than the other team does.

"The team that does that most deserves all the accolades that comes with it."

Frankly, I believe the eventual champ deserves more.

Winning the title this year is going to be extremely difficult. The team that ultimately does so is going to have come through the most challenging circumstances that any NBA champion has ever faced.

Never before has the league had a mid-season stoppage, a four-month layoff, then a restart in a centralized location amid a global pandemic with only eight games before the playoffs begin.

The hurdles will be as high as they are numerous.

For starters, this layoff will have unknown consequences. How will individual players perform? Surely, there will be rust. Possibly, there will be injuries. And what about team cohesion? The small things that had become second nature in early March will likely have been forgotten.

Then, there are the changes to rosters. Several players have already said they aren't going to Orlando for the restart, including a handful of starters. Lakers guard Avery Bradley. Blazers forward Trevor Ariza. Nets center DeAndre Jordan. That throws a wrench into things.

And who knows how many guys may test positive in Orlando and have to miss games.

By all accounts, the NBA has a comprehensive plan to drastically reduce the risk of players catching the virus, but it is creating a bubble, not a force field. There are bound to be players or coaches or support staff who contract the virus, and for the teams that are there longer — the playoff teams that keep winning — the chances are even higher that they'll be impacted.

Dealing with all of that is going to take a physical and mental toll on teams.

Then, there's the actual basketball. During the seeding games, teams will play pretty much every other day except for when they have a back-to-back swing.

Then in the playoffs, you're talking about multiple games against the same team, which is always a grind. Even though there will be no travel, there will also be no home-court advantage. There will be no boost of energy from going back home, no surge of belief from hearing fans roar.

Winning in the playoffs will require fortitude and focus.

And that will be demanded of the teams at a time when they'll have been away from family and friends and home for the better part of three months. These are less-than-ideal circumstances. I know the teams are going to be living in resorts and having virtually everything done for them — meals, laundry, cleaning, etc. — but still, being sequestered somewhere for that long is a grind.

Even if that somewhere is Disney World.

"It's a small world after all" may become some sort of sick joke after these players spend weeks on end in the same hotel rooms and practice courts and restaurants.

Winning the championship this year will be a physical and mental challenge unlike anything the NBA has ever seen before. The champ will have to display an ability to adapt and overcome. The victor will have proved its merit.

This year's NBA title might not be the purest championship ever awarded, but then again, it might be.

"It’s going to be the toughest championship you could ever win," Bucks superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo said during a call with reporters Wednesday morning.

Put an asterisk by this year's champion if you like — just make sure it's to signify what a gauntlet the team survived.

Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or Like her at or follow her at

Jenni Carlson

Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football... Read more ›