Top Moments: Magic Johnson becomes center of attention in 1980 Finals
Filling in for the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the 20-year-old rookie leads the Lakers to the 1980 title with a 42-point masterpiece.
From NBA.com Staff
NBA.com takes a look back at the top moments that define the history of the NBA.
Magic Johnson began his rookie season with the Los Angeles Lakers by leaping into the arms of team captain Kareem Abdul-Jabbar following a last-second victory over the Clippers on opening night. The Lakers’ center had to tell the exuberant rookie to calm down, that there were still 81 games to go – with the playoffs still to follow.
By the time the postseason came, Abdul-Jabbar and the rest of the Lakers had caught Johnson’s enthusiasm, and they rode it to a Finals date against Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers. The teams split the first four games before Abdul-Jabbar suffered a sprained ankle in Game 5, which the Lakers won anyway with the star center limping his way to 14 points down the stretch.
Game 6 looked like it would be a different story. When the team gathered at the airport for the flight to Philadelphia, Abdul-Jabbar stayed home. Not to worry, said Johnson, who boarded the plane and planted himself into Abdul-Jabbar’s customary front-row seat. He winked to coach Paul Westhead and then playfully announced to his teammates: “Never fear, E.J. is here!”
Johnson’s confidence lifted his team’s spirits, and then he backed it up with one of the most remarkable games in NBA playoff history. He began by jumping the opening tap in Abdul-Jabbar’s place, then went on to play every position on the floor at one time or another, from his customary point guard role to Abdul-Jabbar’s pivot spot. Johnson scored 42 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and handed out seven assists as the Lakers stunned the 76ers 123-107 to clinch the first of his five NBA championships.
After the game, he looked into the TV cameras and sent a message to Abdul-Jabbar back in his Bel Air home: “This one’s for you, Big Fella!”