It was a perfect moment for an imperfect season.
Anthony Davis rose for a buzzer-beating 3-pointer in Game 2 of the N.B.A.’s Western Conference finals. He sank the shot, shouted “Kobe!” and ran into the arms of his elated Los Angeles Lakers teammates.
So much seemed packed into that seconds-long sequence. A team that had launched its championship chase amid a geopolitical storm in China. A game-winning shot in an empty arena, the slogan “Black Lives Matter” on the court. And a tribute to Kobe Bryant, the iconic Lakers star whose death in a helicopter crash in January rocked the league.
It was Sept. 20, about 12 months after the Lakers had first gathered to begin training for a season that would have normally concluded in June.
Nothing about the 2019-20 N.B.A. season was normal. There were tragedies and triumphs, setbacks and highlights. When play finally resumed in July after a four-month hiatus brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, it began in a so-called bubble: a self-contained, spectator-free campus at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla., as the league — at no small cost — fought to the finish line.
Some things feel familiar: LeBron James is back in the N.B.A. finals for the 10th time. His Lakers, who have not won a title in 10 years, will face his former team the Miami Heat starting Wednesday. But familiar is not the same. This turbulent season has challenged how the world sees basketball and, perhaps, how basketball players see themselves.
In interviews, five players reflected on the season and all of its complexities, from injuries to grief to social justice protests.