1980 NBA Finals
The 1980 NBA World Championship Series was the championship round of the National Basketball Association (NBA)'s 1979–80 season, and the conclusion of the season's playoffs. The Western Conference champion Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Eastern Conference champion Philadelphia 76ers 4 games to 2.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the league's MVP, but midway through Game 5, the Lakers center suffered a severely sprained ankle. He managed to come back in the game in the fourth quarter to lead the Lakers to victory and a 3–2 lead in the best-of-seven series. But the Lakers still had to travel to Philadelphia for Game 6. Abdul-Jabbar was listed as out of Game 6, although 76ers coach Billy Cunningham was quoted as saying "I won't believe he's not playing until their plane lands and he's not on it." As it turned out, Kareem did not make the trip and was listed as doubtful if Game 7 had been needed.
In Game 6, Magic Johnson played what may have been the greatest game of his career. Playing on the road, Johnson (a 6'9" rookie point guard) started the game at center and eventually played all five positions in a dominating performance. Scoring a game-high 42 points and grabbing a game-high 15 rebounds—and handing out seven assists— Johnson led the Lakers to the NBA crown. The Lakers also received strong performances from Jamaal Wilkes with 37 points and 10 rebounds, and Norm Nixon. Jim Chones played strong defense on 76ers center Darryl Dawkins, while Mark Landsberger provided rebounding off the bench, and little used Brad Holland chipped in eight key points.
Magic Johnson's performance in Game 6 and the series earned him the 1980 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP). What made Johnson's performance even more remarkable was that he was an NBA rookie—and, indeed, one who had left college after only two years, and was only 20 years old. "Jamaal Wilkes had an unbelievable game", said Johnson in 2011. "Everybody talked about my 42 [points], but it was also his [37-point effort]."
In Game 4 of the 1980 Finals, Julius Erving executed the legendary Baseline Move, a behind-the-board reverse layup that seemed to defy gravity. Play-by-play announcer Brent Musburger 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.
This was also the first NBA Finals to make use of the three-point line, which debuted that season.
Los Angeles Lakers
The last time the Lakers won the NBA championship was in 1972. In the eight years between championships, the Lakers made the NBA Finals again in 1973 and lost to the New York Knicks in five games. Then Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West retired, and the Lakers missed the playoffs in 1975 and 1976. In between, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was acquired, and the Lakers returned to prominence in 1977, but Kareem couldn't do it alone.
The Lakers earned the top pick of the 1979 NBA draft (traded as compensation by the New Orleans Jazz after signing Gail Goodrich in 1976) and selected Magic Johnson from Michigan State. It was one of then-owner Jack Kent Cooke's final acts before selling the team to Jerry Buss during that summer. While Magic dazzled in his rookie season, Kareem would enjoy an MVP campaign in the Lakers' 60–22 regular season. This despite an early season coaching change where Paul Westhead assumed head coaching duties following a bicycle accident to Jack McKinney.
Behind Johnson's passing, Abdul-Jabbar's post play and Michael Cooper's perimeter shooting and defense, the trio formed the core of the Lakers' Showtime-era teams. The chemistry between the three was evident early on, as the Lakers eliminated the Phoenix Suns and defending champions Seattle SuperSonics in a pair of five-game playoff series to advance to the NBA Finals.
Julius Erving arrived before the 1976–77 season, and with him as the focal point of the offense, the 76ers soon transformed into a title contender. But after losing to the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1977 NBA Finals, the 76ers realized that a fancy and one-on-one style of play will not take them all the way. Thus they hired former player Billy Cunningham as head coach, and in 1978 the team traded for defensive stalwart Bobby Jones and drafted Maurice Cheeks, while letting go players such as George McGinnis and World B. Free.
In the 1979–80 season the 76ers finished 59–23, two games behind the Boston Celtics in the Atlantic Division. In the playoffs, they eliminated the Washington Bullets in two games, and the Atlanta Hawks in five games. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the 76ers faced NBA Rookie of the Year Award winner Larry Bird and the 61–win Celtics, and owing to the core's three consecutive playoff appearances, the more experienced 76ers were favored to win the series. Proving the prognosticators right, Philadelphia won in five games, preventing the first Celtics–Lakers final since 1969.
The 76ers were the first of the four Philadelphia professional sports teams to play for their respective sports' championships in the 1980 season. The Flyers lost the Stanley Cup Finals against the New York Islanders in overtime of Game 6, eight days after the 76ers fell to the Lakers in their Game 6. The Phillies beat the Kansas City Royals, themselves in six games, in the World Series. The Eagles lost Super Bowl XV to the Oakland Raiders in January 1981.
Of note, this marked the first of the ten NBA Finals played in the 1980s, all of which featured either the Boston Celtics or the Los Angeles Lakers (three Finals featured both teams).
Road to the Finals
Regular season series
Both teams split the two meetings, each won by the home team:
12:30 p.m. PDT
|Philadelphia 76ers 102, Los Angeles Lakers 109|
|Scoring by quarter: 28–26, 25–27, 17–31, 32–25|
|Pts: Erving 20|
Rebs: R. Jones 10
Asts: Hollins 8
|Pts: Abdul-Jabbar 33|
Rebs: Abdul-Jabbar 14
Asts: Johnson 10
|Los Angeles leads the series, 1–0|
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, playing on a mission and finally with an effective supporting cast around him, scored 33 points, pulled down 14 rebounds, and had six blocks and five assists on the way to a 109–102 win in the Forum. Norm Nixon had 23 points and Jamaal Wilkes finished with 20 while the Lakers did an excellent job double-teaming Julius Erving. Rookie Magic Johnson contributed 16 points, 10 assists and 11 rebounds.
8:30 p.m. PDT
|Philadelphia 76ers 107, Los Angeles Lakers 104|
|Scoring by quarter: 31–21, 28–20, 30–30, 18–33|
|Pts: Dawkins 25|
Rebs: Erving 10
Asts: Cheeks 10
|Pts: Abdul-Jabbar 38|
Rebs: Abdul-Jabbar 14
Asts: Johnson 11
|Series tied, 1–1|
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar continued to dominate, with 38 points in Game 2. But, this time, he got very little help as the Laker break never got going.
Julius Erving scored 12 points in the first quarter on his way to 23, beginning the game with a dunk over Abdul-Jabbar. Maurice Cheeks matched Erving's total of 23 points, while Bobby Jones added 13 off the bench. The key was Darryl Dawkins, who had one of his best games of the season by scoring 25 points, many of them on outside shots trying to draw Abdul-Jabbar away from the basket.
The Sixers led by as much as 20 in the fourth period, but the Lakers roared back, trimming the lead to 105–104 late in the game. Then, Jones popped in a jumper with seven seconds left, and that was enough for a 107–104 Philly win that tied the series at a game apiece.
3:30 p.m. EDT
|Los Angeles Lakers 111, Philadelphia 76ers 101|
|Scoring by quarter: 31–18, 27–26, 26–21, 27–36|
|Pts: Abdul-Jabbar 33|
Rebs: Abdul-Jabbar 14
Asts: Nixon 7
|Pts: Erving 24|
Rebs: C. Jones 11
Asts: Hollins 9
|Los Angeles leads the series, 2–1|
With a split in L.A., the Sixers were hoping to take command of the series with the next two games in Philadelphia. The Lakers, however, ended those hopes by taking a 15-point lead in the first quarter. Julius Erving led a short comeback in the second, but a 9–0 run by the Lakers extended their lead to 14 at the half.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar once again had a big game with 33 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks and three assists as the Lakers cruised to a 111–101 win. Julius Erving scored the only three-pointer of the series (and first in NBA Finals history) in this game.
1 p.m. EDT
|Los Angeles Lakers 102, Philadelphia 76ers 105|
|Scoring by quarter: 21–28, 30–21, 25–32, 26–24|
|Pts: Johnson 28|
Rebs: Abdul-Jabbar 11
Asts: Johnson 9
|Pts: Dawkins 26|
Rebs: C. Jones 10
Asts: Hollins 13
|Series tied, 2–2|
This game was a nip-and-tuck affair that was highlighted by Julius Erving's signature "Baseline Move" in the fourth quarter. The Sixers went on to even the series with a 105–102 win. Darryl Dawkins led the Sixers with 26 points and Erving added 23.
8:30 p.m. PDT
|Philadelphia 76ers 103, Los Angeles Lakers 108|
|Scoring by quarter: 22–25, 31–25, 20–31, 30–27|
|Pts: Erving 36|
Rebs: C. Jones 10
Asts: Hollins 10
|Pts: Abdul-Jabbar 40|
Rebs: Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson 15 each
Asts: Johnson 10
|Los Angeles leads the series, 3–2|
Back at the Forum, the Lakers held a two-point lead late in the third quarter when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stepped on Lionel Hollins' foot as he was running upcourt after a Laker basket and twisted his ankle. At that point, Kareem had scored 26 points and was carrying the Lakers, but now he was in the locker room. Magic Johnson then asserted himself by scoring six points and added an assist as Los Angeles moved up by eight at the end of the third.
Abdul-Jabbar then limped back onto the floor. His appearance aroused the Forum regulars and, despite the bad ankle, scored 11 points and had two key blocked shots down the stretch. The Sixers, however, had Julius Erving who scored 11 of the Sixers last 13 points to complete an 8-point comeback, and tie the game at 103–103 with only 43 seconds remaining.
On the Lakers possession, Darryl Dawkins was trying to front Abdul-Jabbar but to no avail as Magic threw a pass overhead so only Erving stood between Kareem and the basket. Abdul-Jabbar, bad ankle and all, dunked emphatically over Erving and drew the foul with 33 seconds left. He converted the 3-point play to take a 106–103 lead.
After a timeout, the Sixers put the ball in the hands of Erving, who tried a spectacular, scooping finger-roll, but missed. Magic got the rebound to seemingly seal the win, but the Lakers tried to force the fast-break and ended up turning the ball over, out-of-bounds. However, the Sixers turned the ball right back over by stepping out of bounds on a desperation 3-point attempt. Norm Nixon would finally seal the game at the foul line by making both of his foul shots. The victory gave the Lakers the crucial 3–2 series lead heading back to Philadelphia.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 14 point 4th quarter on a bad ankle capped an overall 40-point performance. After Game 5 Abdul-Jabbar was averaging 33.4 points per game as compared to eventual MVP Magic Johnson's 17.4.
9 p.m. EDT
|Los Angeles Lakers 123, Philadelphia 76ers 107|
|Scoring by quarter: 32–29, 28–31, 33–23, 30–24|
|Pts: Johnson 42|
Rebs: Johnson 15
Asts: Nixon 9
|Pts: Erving 27|
Rebs: R. Jones 9
Asts: Cheeks 8
|Los Angeles wins the series, 4–2|
The Lakers' team doctors declared Abdul-Jabbar and his bad ankle unfit for Game 6 (he wasn't even allowed to make the trip to Philadelphia with the team because of the swelling), so Laker coach Paul Westhead made a bold move by asking Magic Johnson to jump center. Johnson had no problem and was up to the challenge, although he would lose the famous opening tip to Caldwell Jones. Early on, the Sixers seemed unsure how to counter the matchup problem. The Lakers went up 7–0, then 11–4. Finally, the Sixers used their newfound size advantage in the second quarter to take a 52–44 lead. The Lakers countered by collapsing more in the paint and rallied for a 60–60 tie at the half.
Los Angeles opened the third period with a 14–0 run, keyed by Jamaal Wilkes, who had 16 points in the quarter. In the fourth with a little over five minutes left, the Sixers rallied to cut the Laker lead to 103–101. After a timeout, the Lakers went on one last run, with Magic scoring nine points down the stretch on the way to a final 123–107 margin.
Wilkes had a career-high 37 points and added 10 rebounds. Jim Chones effectively shut down the middle in place of Abdul-Jabbar and finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds, and held Darryl Dawkins to 14 points and a scant four rebounds. Michael Cooper, in a rare start, scored 16 points, and Mark Landsberger contributed 10 boards.
Magic Johnson scored 42 points, including all 14 of his free-throw attempts. He added 15 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and a block and was elected MVP of the series. "It was amazing, just amazing", said Erving, who led Philly with 27 points.
|GP||Games played||GS||Games started||MPG||Minutes per game|
|FG%||Field-goal percentage||3P%||3-point field-goal percentage||FT%||Free-throw percentage|
|RPG||Rebounds per game||APG||Assists per game||SPG||Steals per game|
|BPG||Blocks per game||PPG||Points per game|
- Los Angeles Lakers
- Philadelphia 76ers
The series-deciding Game 6 became the most notorious example of CBS's practice of showing even the most important NBA games on "tape delay" broadcasts. Because May 16, 1980, was a Friday, the network did not want to preempt two of its highest-rated shows, The Dukes of Hazzard and Dallas, even though both shows were already in reruns: the 1979–80 TV season had ended early, back in March, in anticipation of a strike that summer by the Screen Actors Guild. So Game 6 was shown at 11:30pm Eastern (10:30pm Central) in all but five US cities: Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Portland, Las Vegas and Seattle, who carried it live; all but Philadelphia are located in the Pacific Time Zone, thus could show the game live at 6 p.m. local time, then carry CBS's prime time lineup, delayed by a few minutes for the ending of the game. In Atlanta, the CBS affiliate didn't show Game 6 at all, bumping it to independent station WATL-TV, who at least carried the contest live. (This is often cited as an example of TV's lack of interest in the NBA in the "pre-Magic and Bird" era.)
Had Game 7 been played, it would have tipped off at noon Pacific (3 p.m. Eastern).
The 1980 Finals would mark the last play-by-play assignment for Brent Musburger, who was joined on color commentary by Utah Jazz play-by-play announcer Hot Rod Hundley and Boston Celtics legend Bill Russell. Musburger would remain involved with CBS' NBA coverage until 1989, but his duties for later NBA Finals were as a studio host, though he continued to call play-by-play on various occasions.