On this day 33 years ago, Lakers Nation was in a state of panic. Lakers’ star center and 1980 regular season MVP, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar severely sprained his ankle in Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Though Kareem would come back in that game to fuel the Lakers and lead them to a crucial Game 5 win, he would not play in Game 6 in Philadelphia against the 76ers and was unlikely to play a possible Game 7. Gone were the 33 points, 15 rebounds, and five blocks per game that Kareem had given the Lakers throughout the Finals.
Thankfully for the Lakers there was Magic in the air on that night as 6’9 rookie point guard Magic Johnson stepped in to jump center, play all five positions and pour in 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and go a perfect 14-14 from the free throw line. He would lead the Lakers to a 123-107 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in what will forever go down as one of the most iconic games in NBA history.
With his performance, Magic became the first (and only) rookie to be named NBA Finals MVP averaging 21 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists, and three steals in the series.
Asking a 20-year-old rookie to replace the league MVP is an insane proposition and one that nobody else could have fulfilled. Not only did Magic step up offensively, but he also defended 76ers star Julius Erving throughout the game as well as dealing with 76ers big men such as Darryl Dawkins in what was a much more physical era of the NBA.
This performance served as the launching point of one of the greatest careers in NBA history as young Magic would grow into one of the biggest stars the NBA would ever see, as well as one of the greatest players of all-time.
This victory also began one of the greatest decade runs in NBA history as the Lakers would appear in eight NBA Finals in the 1980s, winning five total championships and cementing themselves as one of the greatest dynasties and the premiere franchise of the National Basketball Association.
Happy anniversary, Magic.