Magic Johnson

Led by Magic Johnson, the Lakers became the first team since the 1968-69 Boston Celtics to win back-to-back championships.

No NBA team had won back-to-back Championships since the Boston Celtics turned the trick in 1968 and 1969. Many believed that the league's expansion had spread the talent pool so widely that repeating had become nearly impossible. One man who disagreed with that theory was Pat Riley. Not satisfied with the Lakers' position as the Team of the 1980s after four titles, Riley decided that back-to-back titles would stamp his team as one of the all-time greats. So he did a peculiar thing. A day after the 1987 Finals, Riley guaranteed the Lakers would repeat. Not maybe--a guarantee.

The Lakers fashioned the NBA's best record at 62-20, with Byron Scott (21.7 ppg) and James Worthy (19.7 ppg) assuming a greater share of the scoring load from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson. The Lakers' bench was at its deepest. Mychal Thompson, a key reserve on the 1987 title team, was now sharing the center spot with Abdul-Jabbar. Third-year forward A.C. Green, who was coming of age, and veterans Michael Cooper and Kurt Rambis made important contributions.

As the Lakers looked to repeat, a new challenger was rising in the East. Boston won an East-high 57 games, but Detroit, which had pushed the Celtics to the Eastern Finals the previous year, won 54 games and the Central Division. General Manager Jack McCloskey and Coach Chuck Daly had surrounded 6-1 superstar guard Isiah Thomas with rugged rebounders Bill Laimbeer and Rick Mahorn, scorers Adrian Dantley, Joe Dumars and Vinnie Johnson, and young, aggressive defensive forwards Dennis Rodman and John Salley.

Each team was battle-tested on its way to the Finals, with Detroit going 11-5 and the Lakers 11-6. The Pistons defeated Boston by winning two of three games at Boston Garden. The Lakers outlasted Dallas in seven hard-fought games with the home team winning each time. In the Finals, Los Angeles needed every bit of its homecourt advantage, coming back from a 3-2 deficit to win two close games in the Forum to become the first repeat Champions since the 1968-69 Boston Celtics.

Isiah Thomas yearned for recognition, not as one of the NBA's top guards, or top little men, but as one of the game's top players. He had entered the league with Detroit after the Pistons had suffered through a 21-61 campaign. By Thomas' third season, the Pistons had a head coach, Chuck Daly, who had figured out how to maximize his superstar's strengths, so that a team built around a point guard could contend.

Although Detroit lost the 1988 NBA Finals in seven games, Thomas' effort in Game 6, when he sustained a seriously sprained ankle but still scored 43 points, stamped him as an NBA legend in the making. Thomas scored 25 points in the third quarter, which remains an NBA Finals record.

"What Isiah Thomas did in the second half was just incredible," marveled Lakers Coach Pat Riley.