In a previous instalment, we reviewed the 1985 Philadelphia 76ers. That team, of course, didn’t win an NBA Title. But they had 5 Hall of Famers, 3 players who won 3 MVPs in the course of their career, the last(Moses Malone) winner before Bird-Magic-Jordan and the first( Charles Barkley) who broke that trios dominance on the award. Now, things will get a little personal. This writing will focus on the 1981 LA Lakers. Let’s deal.
In 1980, the Lakers seemed flush. With their MVP(and ageless) Kareem Abdul Jabbar, the team now had Finals MVP sensation Earvin Magic Johnson, all of 21 years old. In addition, no one else on their team save Power Forward Jim Chones was over 30. The possibilities seemed endless. Until.
On November 18th, 1980, Johnson would tear the cartilage in his knee. He would miss 45 games, but his return was worse than his actual injury. The team would actually have to adjust to his return. Let us review the makeup of the team. Point Guard- Norm Nixon 17.1 points 8.8. Assists 1.8 steals Shooting/PG– Magic Johnson 21.6 points, 8.6 assists, 3.4 steals small Forward– Jamaal Wilkes- 22.6 points, 5.4 rebounds, 1.5 steals Power Forward– Jim Chones- 10.8 points, 8.0 rebounds Center– Kareem Abdul Jabbar- 26.2 points, 10.3 rebounds, 3.4 assists, 2.9 blocked shots Bench: Michael Cooper, Eddie Jordan, Mark Landsberger, Jim Brewer Record: 54-28.
Strengths: Like the 80 edition, they were more than capable at their best beating teams in transition or halfcourt. This team had 3 Hall of Famers in their starting lineup. Only one(Wilkes) was in his prime; Johnson wouldn’t be for another 2 years. Abdul Jabbar would extend his prime for the next 6 years to the amazement of the league. The bench was serviceable.
Weaknesses: Well, injuries and mental toughness. In 1980, Coach Paul Westhead had become a team and media darling as he allowed the team to play at their comfort style. Johnson’s injury forced the team to rewire back to Abdul Jabbar, and the results were not as good. Unfortunately, management adored Magic and made his return more important than the product that held the team together in his absence. Most of the team was affected, but the two most impacted were Nixon and Abdul Jabbar. Nixon and Johnson had been best buddies; They were also in-house rivals in a contest Nixon couldn’t win. The second had been Abdul Jabbar; He seethed that he was passed over for Finals MVP and in truth, he favored Nixon’s passing over Johnson’s razzle-dazzle. Westhead then decided that he had more authority as a coach than he really did, and doubled down on feeding Abdul Jabbar.
Playoffs: They played a three-round miniseries vs the Houston Rockets, led by hard-working Moses Malone. In-game 1, Malone would get 38 points and 23 rebounds; The Lakers won game 2 and returned home to face the Rockets again. The LA Times published a story about the team grumbling over the attention paid to Johnson. A full-blown locker room fight ensued, and an angry team took the court that night. Johnson had a nightmare (2-13) game, and lost in the shuffle was that Abdul Jabbar outdueled Malone in this game. Trailing by one, and still sensitive about the article, Magic would throw up an airball into the hands of Malone as the Lakers were defeated. The Final score would be 89-86, and the Rockets pulled off the upset and advanced their way to the 1981 NBA Finals. There, they would lose in 6 games to the Boston Celtics. Next, we will profile the 1983 Celtics.