In his rookie season with the Los Angeles Lakers, Magic Johnson won a championship and started a dynasty for the franchise.
Forty years ago in the Philadelphia Spectrum, the Los Angeles Lakers and the Philadelphia 76ers prepared to meet in Game Six of the 1980 NBA Finals. Before the night was over a dynasty would be born, a decade of change in the NBA would be ushered in, and a Hall of Fame legacy began.
The fans in attendance were confident that the 76ers would win forcing a winner-take-all game seven in Los Angeles. The Lakers were without their captain and the 1980 regular season NBA MVP, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
To everyone’s surprise, when tip-off started rookie sensation Magic Johnson came to the center circle ready to take the mantle for the injured Kareem. By the end of the night, the Lakers would be champions and a new era had begun in the NBA.
At 6 foot 9 inches Earvin “Magic” Johnson was an outstanding rookie who had parlayed a national championship in 1979 with the Michigan State Spartans into being picked 1st overall in the 1979 draft.
The Lakers thanks to a coin flip had the 1st pick in the draft and chose the effusive Magic to pair with their aloof captain Kareem. When the Lakers defeated the San Diego Clippers on a buzzer-beater from Kareem to start the season, Magic hugged him as if they had won the NBA title letting everyone know that Lakers basketball would be fun from that point forward.
Magic made the All-Rookie 1st team totaling a 18.0/7.7/7.3 slash line, producing flashy passes and an energetic style in the Lakers fastbreak offense.
In Game Six of the NBA Finals, Magic ran roughshod over the 76ers scoring 42 points collecting 15 rebounds and dishing 7 assists to help the Lakers win the game and the NBA title. Magic played all five positions on the floor and was named Finals MVP something no rookie had done then or since that night in Philadelphia.
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When the game was over and the title trophy was handed out to the Lakers, accepting it on behalf of the coaches and team was owner, Dr. Jerry Buss. A rookie like Magic, Jerry Buss had bought the Lakers, Los Angeles Kings, and Forum from previous owner Jack Kent Cooke in 1979.
Using a shrewd sense of how entertaining live basketball could be, Buss brought glitz and glamour to Lakers games. By incorporating live music and dancers and spotlights, Buss turned a mundane game night into a party.
Buss also proved to be a shrewd judge of talent making drafting Magic Johnson part of his ownership agreement with Cooke. Buss knew Magic’s smile and talent were a perfect fit for this vision of Lakers basketball. In Philadelphia that night, Buss was rewarded with an NBA title for his talent assessment and smart purchase. It would prove to be a longtime pattern for Buss and the Lakers.
A New Dynasty
When the Lakers celebrated their championship win none of the players had been on the team the last time the team won a title in 1972. Only Kareem and small forward Jamaal Wilkes had won NBA titles in the past. By the end of the decade, the Lakers would finish off a dynasty that included winning five titles and playing in eight NBA Finals, helping the NBA reach new heights in popularity.
With Magic and Kareem at the helm, the Lakers would define the 1980’s with their “Showtime” fastbreak offense. Magic’s Lakers renewed rivalry with Larry Bird‘s Boston Celtics made the NBA must-see television for the first time in its history.
When Game Six of the 1980 NBA Finals started on May 16th forty years ago, no one could anticipate that a 20-year-old rookie named Magic Johnson would usher in a new era of Lakers and NBA basketball. Now we all remember that night as the night a dynasty was born.