An hour before the 2019 NBA Finals tipped off in Toronto -- the first time the league's showcase event had been played outside the United States -- commissioner Adam Silver reminded those watching that basketball's founder, James Naismith, was a Christian missionary who brought the game to China and Europe in the belief that it could be a common language.
Silver is a like-minded optimist who believes in the NBA as an instrument of soft power across the globe. He is a willing ambassador who spoke that night about the league's foray into Africa and the Indian subcontinent, and its ever-expanding presence in China, where basketball can be used "maybe in the way pingpong was used in the days of Richard Nixon." This is a core part of Silver's message: Be they international borders or the realm of social media, the NBA loves tackling frontiers.
In the months that followed, the NBA would be rocked by a sequence of traumatic incidents, many of which have irrevocably changed the way it does business.
In the 2019-20 season, the outside world overwhelmed the NBA. For the first time, it had to adapt its growth strategy and the political posture of its power brokers. Even the way games are played -- the where, when and how -- was jeopardized by external crises, as the season will end inside a bubble environment in Florida almost a full year after its first game tipped off in Toronto.
A league that has reveled in its standing as a global enterprise was burdened by the weight of the world this season. Yet along the way, the NBA still showed its flair for the dramatic -- Zion Williamson's theatrical debut, an unprecedented solution to safely playing during a deadly pandemic and one of the most unpredictable postseasons in history.
Here's how we got to the doorstep of an NBA Finals that was anything but guaranteed.
June 30, 2019: Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving both announce they plan to sign with the Brooklyn Nets, crushing the hopes of the crosstown New York Knicks.
July 1: The Miami Heat complete a sign-and-trade deal to acquire Jimmy Butler from the Philadelphia 76ers.
July 5: No. 1 overall pick Zion Williamson makes his debut at Las Vegas Summer League ... and a 7.1-magnitude earthquake halts play.
July 6: The LA Clippers land both Kawhi Leonard and Paul George in separate deals. Leonard departs the defending champion Toronto Raptors and snubs LeBron James' Los Angeles Lakers.
July 11: The Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder exchange superstar point guards, with Chris Paul heading to OKC and longtime face of the franchise Russell Westbrook reuniting with former Thunder teammate James Harden in Houston.