At this point, Magic Johnson’s performance in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals is the performance of legends.
With 42 points, 15 rebounds and 7 assists, led the Los Angeles Lakers to a shocking Game 6 victory on the road over the Philadelphia 76ers. Johnson’s effort helped the Lakers to their first NBA championship under the ownership of the late, great Dr. Jerry Buss.
With regular season MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar leading the way, the Lakers chances at winning the championship were great. But Kareem severely injured his ankle in Game 5 and though he returned and led the Lakers to a win and a 3-2 lead he would need to sit out Game 6 in Philadelphia.
Because of that many assumed the Lakers had no chance in that contest and Dr. Buss was one of them. Jeanie Buss, current Lakers owner and president recently discussed this with LZ Granderson of the L.A. Times.
According to Jeanie, her father was already looking ahead to Game 7 and didn’t her and others traveling to Philadelphia as he felt the team would lose:
“He didn’t want a bunch of people to go there to watch us lose,” she said. “We were thinking about Game 7 back at the Forum. Knowing what we know now, of course I would have gone. But Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) was injured and not going to play and we knew they had a great team… Who knew Magic was going to do what he did?”
Looking back, it’s certainly difficult to have missed out on an opportunity to witness one of the greatest performances in NBA history in person. But Jerry wasn’t necessarily wrong in his thought process and as Jeanie noted, there was no way to know that Magic Johnson was capable of such a performance.
Obviously owners should always try to have a positive mindset, but when a team is without its best player and MVP, and going on the road to face a team led by the great Julius Erving, it’s hard to not assume the worst. But Magic had other ideas and put the world on notice that there was a new superstar in the NBA.
Johnson was a special talent and person. When Kareem went down, he didn’t hesitate to step up in that spot and lead the Lakers to a championship and for that to happen as a rookie is even more impressive.
There’s a reason he is still considered one of the greatest players ever, but unfortunately for Jeanie Buss, not knowing how special he was at the time caused her to miss out on a legendary night for the Lakers organization.