2020: The Year of the Asterisk


The NBA and NHL have made plans to resume their seasons in the coming months. The MLB appears to be close to an agreement between owners and players as to when they will begin their season. The NFL is planning to begin the season on-time.

It begs the question: Will the 2020 champions be tainted?

It is a complicated situation to look at, but history provides a sort of stepping stone to look at other disrupted seasons. While 2020 shutting down all sports was unprecedented, the four major sports have all had their issues with strikes and lockouts since 1980.


The 1982 and 1987 seasons were marred by strikes. Ironically, the Washington Redskins won both accompanying Super Bowls: Super Bowl XVII and Super Bowl XXII. Almost 40 years later, is there an asterisk next to either Lombardi?


No. The Redskins won three Super Bowls in 10 years, adding XXVI to the trophy cabinet after the 1991 season. The 1983 Redskins are regarded as one of the better teams to not win the Super Bowl. Even if it was viewed with an asterisk in the era, the Redskins made the playoffs seven times between 1982 and 1991, so it was hardly a fluke for them to win three titles and go to a fourth Super Bowl.



The NHL canceled the entire 2004-2005 season after a labor dispute. No games were played, and there was no champion. The only asterisk attached to the 2005 season is the fact there was no season.

In the 1994-1995 and 2012-2013 seasons, the league’s lockout sacrificed 34 games, leaving 48 regular-season games. In 1995, the New Jersey Devils won their first Stanley Cup. They later won Cups in 2000 and 2003, so the legitimacy of their original Cup was ensured. From 1990 to 2010, the Devils made the playoffs in all but one season (1996), going to four Cup Finals.


The 2013 Blackhawks had one of the most dominant seasons in NHL history. They posted a point percentage of over 80 percent. For context, the 1996 Red Wings and 2019 Lightning won an NHL-record 62 games in their seasons and did not collect 80 percent of points. Before the 2013 Blackhawks, the 1977 and 1978 Canadiens were the last team to crack 80 percent of points collected. Doubling down on their dominant regular season, the Blackhawks won their second Cup in four years, and they added a third in 2015.

In hindsight, there does not seem to be an asterisk attached to the 1995 Devils or 2013 Blackhawks.


The NBA went through lockouts in the 1998-1999 and 2011-2012 seasons. In 1999, the teams crammed 50 games into about three full months of action. The Spurs took the initiative, winning 31 of their last 36 games after starting 6-8. They won the 1999 NBA Finals, their first as a franchise.

At the time, there was a slight tinge of unease about the championship due to the state of the NBA. The 50-game season was bizarre, many players were injured, and the league’s product was one of the worst it has ever been. However, the Spurs cemented their legacy as a legitimate champion by winning titles in 2003, 2005, 2007, and 2014.

Since joining the NBA, the Spurs have only missed the playoffs four times, and they have made it every season since 1998. It was likely a fortunate situation, but the Spurs backed their title up with one of the most dominant dynasties in sports history.

The legacy attached to the 2011-2012 Miami Heat is bizarre. Despite having 2012 MVP LeBron James, the Heat were not the top seed in the playoffs. However, a Derrick Rose ACL injury soon sidelined the top-seeded Bulls. The Heat waltzed through the Knicks, snuffed out the Pacers after an early threat, and came back from the brink of elimination to beat the under-seeded Celtics (likely due in some small part to regular-season injuries piling up.

The Heat won the 2012 Finals fairly convincingly before terrorizing the league in 2013 with a 66-win season and a 27-game win streak. The Heat did repeat as champions, solidifying their shaky 2012 legacy. The Heat did win the 2006 title, but most of the roster had changed outside of Dwyane Wade.

At that moment, the 1999 Spurs and 2012 Heat were challenged as champions, but over the next few seasons, they worked to remove the attached asterisk by winning more titles and going to more Finals.


Similar to the 2004-2005 NHL lockout, MLB canceled the remainder of the 1994 season and the World Series. When baseball returned in 1995, there were 144 games to play, 18 fewer than normal seasons. The 1995 Braves won 90 games in the shortened season (on pace for about 101 wins in a 162-game season) and progressed to the World Series for the third time in the decade (1991, 1992).

In the World Series, they quieted the bats of the 100-win Indians (112.5-win pace) and captured their first title since 1957. Unlike the other teams mentioned, the Braves did not win another title to solidify their legacy, but they are regarded as the “Team of the ‘90s,” and the title does not seem to be tainted by the 1994 strike or by the reduced season. The Braves won their division every completed season from 1991 to 2005, going to the World Series in 1991, 1992, 1995, 1996, and 1999.

Food for Thought

While the nightmare scenario for many is some random team winning the championship, historically, it rarely happens. Since 1980, every interrupted season (besides MLB in 1995) has ended with the champion that had either won before or after the lockout/strike.

In 2020, the NBA, NHL, and MLB teams may be forced to back-up their title with runs in the future, but the NFL should remain clean assuming the season begins on time.


As the pro sports seasons return, the talk of an asterisk next to the championships will heat up. Historically speaking, however, teams have had ample chances to prove they would have been title contenders anyways. While many teams across the leagues would get an automatic asterisk if they won the title in a bizarre year, is it really worth it? The 30, 31, or 32 teams are in similar predicaments, and they are all subject to the same injury risk and playing conditions.

If the Suns go on a magical run through the proposed Disney play-in and end up winning the Finals, it would be because they were the best team when the games mattered.

With the results-oriented scope of sports, there is always luck in every championship. Teams need to be fortunate to avoid catastrophic injuries or meltdowns while also taking advantage of the inch of leeway given by the opponent. Each champion will have a chance to “legitimize” their title in the future if they have not already in fans’ or the media’s eyes.


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