In any other year, N.B.A. teams would be gearing up for a new season right now. A champion would have been crowned in June. Free agents would have signed big deals in July. Everyone would have gone on vacation in August.

But this year, the N.B.A. is still trying to complete its old season, the one that began nearly a year ago. It’s been a long 12 months of basketball — and so much more.

[Also see: N.B.A. Season Like No Other: ‘One of the Worst, Strangest Years’]

The Prelude: A Summer of Change

Major trades and a chaotic free agency period shifted the N.B.A.’s hierarchy.


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Without Kawhi Leonard, the Toronto Raptors were counted out.

The Los Angeles Clippers looked scary-good after adding Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

But perhaps not as good as LeBron James and the Lakers, who added Anthony Davis.

The Nets sent D’Angelo Russell to Golden State in a deal for Kevin Durant, and signed Kyrie Irving. Russell Westbrook swapped teams with Chris Paul, who headed to Oklahoma City from Houston.


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Jimmy Butler joined the Miami Heat from Philadelphia in a deal that was overshadowed at the time but has proved critical during the postseason.


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And there were some exciting rookies, like Zion Williamson of the New Orleans Pelicans …

Ja Morant of the Memphis Grizzlies …

… and Tyler Herro of the Miami Heat.

(And in the middle of all of that: Remember Damian Lillard and Sacramento’s Marvin Bagley III exchanging diss tracks? And Lillard doing the same with Shaquille O’Neal’?)

October 2019

But before the season could begin, everything changed again.

Houston Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey posted a tweet expressing support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong.

Chinese officials demanded that Morey be fired, and pulled N.B.A. games from television while several teams, including the Nets and the Lakers, were in China for exhibition games.


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Morey said he did not intend to “cause any offense” and went quiet. The N.B.A. said it was “regrettable” that the tweet had offended people, and the Lakers’ LeBron James said Morey “wasn’t educated about the situation.”

Many fans and politicians accused the N.B.A. of prioritizing a lucrative business relationship with China over support for the protesters in Hong Kong.


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LeBron James received a lot of backlash.

Morey had supporters around the world, including in mainland China.

N.B.A. Commissioner Adam Silver was criticized, too.

The N.B.A.’s relationship with China remains strained, a rift Commissioner Adam Silver has said could cost the league hundreds of millions of dollars.

The regular season began on Oct. 22 — but without Zion Williamson, who injured his knee during the preseason.

More injuries piled up quickly.


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Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry broke his hand in the fourth game.

The Nets’ Kyrie Irving (shoulder) and Caris LeVert (thumb) were injured within weeks.

Atlanta’s Trae Young played through an ankle injury.

Philadelphia’s Joel Embiid and Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns were suspended for an on-court brawl that spilled over onto social media.

Times sportswriter Marc Stein bemoaned the season’s gloomy start.

November 2019

Carmelo Anthony finally found a home after not playing for a year, signing with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks went toe-to-toe with LeBron James in an instant classic against the Lakers.

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Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons, mocked for rarely shooting from outside, hit the first 3-pointer of his career.

December 2019

The N.B.A. ratings had been down all season, and everyone had a theory: anger over the China dispute; off years by popular teams, like the Warriors; cord-cutting; injuries to stars.

On Dec. 6, the Knicks — on pace for their worst season ever — fired Coach David Fizdale.

James Harden was scoring at will in Houston, and Bam Adebayo was on a tear in Miami for the Heat.


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On Dec. 12, the league was shaken by the news that David Stern, the former commissioner of the N.B.A., had been rushed to the hospital because of a brain hemorrhage.

Stern had stepped down as commissioner in February 2014, ceding the job to Silver, his longtime deputy. But he remained active in sports as an investor and as a sounding board for Silver and others.


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January 2020

David Stern died on New Year’s Day at age 77.


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Stern’s run as commissioner coincided with Michael Jordan’s explosion into an icon.

Stern turned the N.B.A. into a global powerhouse.

A memorial service at Radio City Music Hall in Manhattan three weeks after Stern’s death drew basketball luminaries such as Magic Johnson and Bill Russell.

Johnson described Stern as “my angel.”


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The next day, Zion Williamson made his regular-season debut.

But by then, Ja Morant had established himself as the frontrunner for the Rookie of the Year Award.

On Jan. 26, tragedy: Kobe Bryant, the 41-year-old former Lakers superstar, was killed in a helicopter crash near Los Angeles along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others.


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Kobe and Gianna had gone to a Lakers game at Staples Center just weeks before.

The day of the crash, they had been on their way to Gianna’s basketball game with some of her teammates.

The outpouring of grief was immediate and worldwide, with public memorials and gatherings for days.


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The N.B.A. took the unusual step of postponing a game between the Lakers and Clippers because the players were grieving.

The night before Bryant died, he congratulated LeBron James for passing him for third on the N.B.A.’s career scoring list.

The Lakers returned to the court on Jan. 31 in an emotional game against the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center.


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February 2020

As Bryant’s family prepared for his memorial, and the N.B.A. made plans to honor him during All-Star Weekend, the season carried on to the Feb. 6 trade deadline.

In Memphis, that meant focusing on Andre Iguodala. The Warriors veteran had been traded to the Grizzlies in the off-season but had not reported while the team sought to trade him.

Iguodala was traded to Miami. D’Angelo Russell was moved again, to Minnesota from Golden State for Andrew Wiggins.

During All-Star Weekend in Chicago, the N.B.A. announced that it had renamed the All-Star Game’s Most Valuable Player Award after Bryant.


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Miami’s Derrick Jones Jr. was incredible and won the dunk contest.

A reimagined All-Star Game with new scoring rules led to fierce competition between Team Giannis and Team LeBron.

Kawhi Leonard, who trained with Bryant in the off-season, won the renamed M.V.P. trophy.

A public memorial for Bryant and his daughter was held on Feb. 24 at Staples Center.


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Vanessa Bryant, Kobe’s widow, gave an emotional speech about him and Gianna.

Michael Jordan also gave a tearful speech. He laughed at himself for crying, again — like his meme.

March 2020

Within the first week, Stephen Curry played in his first game since breaking his hand in October, Nets Coach Kenny Atkinson abruptly stepped down, and the Knicks had a falling out with the director Spike Lee over which entrance he could use at Madison Square Garden.


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But Curry started feeling sick. There was concern that he might have the coronavirus, which by then was known to be in the United States but had not yet led to widespread lockdowns.

Curry just had the flu, but he did not play again before the N.B.A. had its first known case of the virus. Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive on March 11, before a game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.


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The coaches of the Jazz and Thunder met with the referees before their game was postponed that night.

The Thunder left the court.

The singer Frankie J, who was to go on at halftime, performed while the game was delayed.

The Pelicans game against the Kings also was postponed.

The N.B.A. became the first major sports league to suspend its season because of the coronavirus.

That unexpectedly made March 11 the final night of Vince Carter’s 22-year N.B.A. career.


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The Pandemic

It would take months for the N.B.A. and the players’ union to create a plan to restart the season inside a bubble at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Fla.

During that time, the severity of the pandemic became clear. Several more players tested positive, including Gobert’s teammate Donovan Mitchell and Kevin Durant of the Nets.

On March 25, Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns shared that his parents had tested positive. His mother, Jacqueline Towns, died less than a month later.

With lockdowns soon widespread because of the pandemic, and N.B.A. facilities off limits, some players struggled to stay game-ready at home.

Jimmy Butler had portable hoops delivered to all of his Miami Heat teammates, including Meyers Leonard.


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But by May 23, when the N.B.A. announced its intent to restart the season in Florida, everything was about to change again.

The Protest

George Floyd, a Black man, was killed by the police in Minneapolis on May 25. Worldwide protests over his killing also drew attention to the deaths of Breonna Taylor, a Black woman killed by the police in Louisville, Ky, and Ahmaud Arbery, a Black man who was shot and killed while he was jogging in Georgia.

N.B.A. players, like Boston’s Jaylen Brown and Indiana’s Malcolm Brogdon, immediately joined the protests.


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Some players, such as Milwaukee’s George Hill, worried that resuming the season would distract from the raging social justice movement.

The league and players agreed to incorporate social justice symbols into the restart, and team owners pledged millions of dollars for related causes.

Kneeling during the national anthem became commonplace, though not universal, at N.B.A. games.


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It wasn’t enough.

On Aug. 26, the Milwaukee Bucks walked out of a playoff game with the Orlando Magic to protest the police shooting of Jacob Blake, a Black man, in Wisconsin. They were soon joined in their walkout by the Magic and other teams in the N.B.A., W.N.B.A. and major sports leagues.


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The N.B.A. resumed play three days later with additional commitments from the team owners to invest in social justice and voter outreach. Some teams pledged to try to use their arenas as voting sites in November.

By then, there should be a new N.B.A. champion.

The Restart

It took much longer than expected to get here, but the Miami Heat and the Los Angeles Lakers are facing off in the N.B.A. finals.

The team that wins will have triumphed in a season unlike any other.


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Devin Booker and the Suns went on a wildly fun winning streak in the bubble.

Damian Lillard made shots from everywhere.

The Heat took down the Bucks, the No. 1 seed.

Milwaukee’s Giannis Antetokounmpo won his second-straight league M.V.P. Award.

Chris Paul proved that he still had it.

The Denver Nuggets fought back from elimination — twice — and showed what more is possible.

The league awaits its champion.