1980 NBA Finals - Lakers Defeat 76ers
The 1980 NBA World Championship Series was the championship round of the 1979–80 NBA season.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the league's MVP. But in a Game 5 victory, the Laker center suffered a severely sprained ankle. Proud to lead the best-of-seven series three-games-to-two, the Lakers still had to travel to Philadelphia for a huge Game 6—without Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
In game 6, Magic Johnson may have played the greatest game of his career. On May 16, 1980, in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, playing on the road, in Philadelphia, Magic (a 6'9" point guard) started the game at center and eventually played every position on the floor in a dominating performance. Scoring a game-high 42 points and grabbing a game-high 15 rebounds—and handing out 7 assists—Magic Johnson led the Lakers to the NBA crown.
Magic Johnson was named the 1980 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, though he appreciated Magic Johnson's play as much as anyone, expressed disappointment that he, Kareem, had not received the Finals MVP award.
What made Magic Johnson's performance even more remarkable was that he was an NBA rookie—and, indeed, one who had left college after only two years. Thus, he was only 20 years old.
On a side note, here, in Game 4 of the 1980 Finals, Julius Erving executed the legendary Baseline Move, an incredible, behind-the-board reverse layup that seemed to defy gravity. Play-by-play announcer Brent Musberger has noted that Erving made such moves almost routinely in his ABA days—but the ABA had no national TV contract in those days. This Game 4 move, played to a national audience in a title game, has probably become Julius Erving's most famous move.
The 76ers were the first of the four Philadelphia professional sports teams to play for their respective league's championships in a span of nine months. The Philadelphia Flyers succumbed in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals to the New York Islanders eight days after the 76ers fell to the Lakers in their Game 6, the Philadelphia Phillies won their first championship in the World Series in October over the Kansas City Royals, and the Philadelphia Eagles lost Super Bowl XV to the Oakland Raiders in January 1981.
Johnson was drafted first overall in 1979 by the Los Angeles Lakers. Johnson said that what was "most amazing" about joining the Lakers was the chance to play alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the team's 7 ft 2 in (2.18 m) center who became the leading scorer in NBA history. Despite Abdul-Jabbar's dominance, he had failed to win a championship with the Lakers, and Johnson was expected to help them achieve that goal. Johnson averaged 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game for the season, was selected to the NBA All-Rookie Team, and was named an NBA All-Star Game starter.
The Lakers compiled a 60–22 record in the regular season and reached the 1980 NBA Finals, in which they faced the Philadelphia 76ers, who were led by forward Julius Erving. The Lakers took a 3–2 lead in the series, but Abdul-Jabbar, who averaged 33 points a game in the series, sprained his ankle in Game 5 and could not play in Game 6. Paul Westhead decided to start Johnson at center in Game 6; Johnson recorded 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, and three steals in a 123–107 win, while playing guard, forward, and center at different times during the game. Johnson became the only rookie to win the NBA Finals MVP award, and his clutch performance is still regarded as one of the finest in NBA history. He also became one of four players to win NCAA and NBA championships in consecutive years.
A year after leading his Michigan State Spartans to the 1979 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship, Earvin "Magic" Johnson applied the same magic to his Los Angeles Lakers, leading them to victory in an improbable role as a rookie.
The 1980 NBA Championship Series was the culmination of the 1979-80 National Basketball Assocation season.
Although many remember the remarkable play of Magic Johnson in game 6, it was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar who was the league's Most Valuable Player and an almost unstoppable force in the first 5 games of the 1980 NBA finals. But in a Game 5 victory, Jabbar suffered a severely sprained ankle. Team doctors made it clear that Jabbar could not play in game 6. So even though the Lakers were now leading the best-of-seven series three-games-to-two, they still had to travel to Philadelphia for a huge Game 6, without their veteran center and league MVP.
Magic Johnson Steps Up
That's when Magic Johnson got a chance to show his "magic."
Johnson pleaded with Laker's first-year coach Paul Westhead to put him into the post as the team's center. That would seem an unlikely choice for the team's point guard. But at 6'9", Westhead figured he could do worse and gave in to the rookie's request. It proved to be one of the most brilliant moves ever made and Johnson ended up playing one of the greatest games of his storied career, leading the Lakers to a road victory and the 1980 NBA Championship title.
The Final Game
The final game (Game 6) of the series was played on May 16 , 1980 (just 2 days before Mt. St. Helen's erupted). Magic started the game at center and wound up playing every position on the floor in a dominating performance. Johnson scored a game-high 42 points and snatched a game-high 15 rebounds. He also added 7 assists and 3 steals in leading the Lakers to the 1980 NBA crown. His performance stunned the Philadelphia fans, along with their star, Julius "Dr. J" Erving. The international television audience who watched the game suddenly found a new icon in "Magic."
Magic Named Finals MVP
Magic Johnson was named the 1980 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player, primarily for his play in game 6. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar expressed disappointment that he (Kareem) had not received the Finals MVP award for his dominating play in the first 5 games.
The thing that made the performance of Magic Johnson in the 1980 NBA game six Finals was the fact that he was a 20-year-old rookie. In 1980 it was not common for players to leave college so early.
Other Notable Stars
Although the Lakers won the championship and Magic Johnson stole the show in game 6, there were other stories in this series. As already noted, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had a stellar performance in the finals, capping off a dominating year as the league MVP. In addition, Julius Erving wowed the viewing audience with some of his ABA flair that earned hom the nickname "Dr. J." In game 4 of the 1980 NBA Finals, Dr. J performed his legendary baseline move -- an incredible, behind-the-backboard reverse layup that seemed to defy gravity. Play-by-play announcer Bob Costas noted that Erving had made such moves almost routinely in his ABA days, but the ABA had no national TV contract in those days. This baseline move, seen for the first time by millions in the game 4 of the 1980 NBA finals, is easily remebered as Dr. J's most famous basketball move.
The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Philadelphia 76ers four games to two in the best-of-seven NBA Finals series to conclude the 1979-80 NBA season. The victory gave the Lakers their seventh NBA championship and first since 1972.
The 76ers were making their second Finals appearance in four seasons, having lost to the Trail Blazers in 1977. This was the third meeting in the Finals between the two franchises, though the previous two came when the Lakers were based in Minneapolis and the 76ers were the Syracuse Nationals.
Magic Johnson won NBA Finals MVP honors, becoming the only rookie ever to win the award. Johnson, who would go on to win the award twice more in his career, joined Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West as Lakers Finals MVPs.
The Lakers had home-court advantage for the Finals, which were played under the 2-2-1-1-1 format. The two teams split their regular-season meetings in 1979-80, with each team winning on its home court.