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On This Date in Sports May 16, 1980: The Magic Touch

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With Kareem Abdul-Jabbar resting his injured ankle back in Los Angeles, the Lakers move rookie Magic Johnson to center for Game 6 of the NBA Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers at the Spectrum. The move pays off as Magic scores 42 points with 15 rebounds as the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Sixers 123-107 to win their second NBA Championship. Magic Johnson would capture the NBA Finals MVP.


Hoping to improve their team’s struggling fortunes, the New Orleans Jazz signed Gail Goodrich in 1976. As compensation, they were forced to part with three first-round draft picks, this included the first overall pick in 1979, which the Los Angeles Lakers used to pick Magic Johnson. Goodrich retired after the 1979 season as the Jazz moved to Utah. In the 1979/80 season, the Lakers were the top team in the West at 60-22 under coach Paul Westhead. The Lakers would beat the Phoenix Suns in five games in the Western semifinals before beating the reigning NBA Champion Seattle Supersonics in five games in the Conference Finals.

Coached by Billy Cunningham, the Philadelphia 76ers reached the NBA Finals for the second time in four years. The Sixers finished third in the Eastern Conference with a record of 59-23. Finishing third, the 76ers needed to play in the preliminary round and knocked off the Washington Bullets in two games. The Bullets had represented the Eastern Conference in the last two NBA Finals. Moving on, the Sixers beat the Atlanta Hawks in five, then upset the Boston Celtics in five games in the Eastern Conference Finals. 

The 1979/80 season was the start of a new era for the Lakers as Jerry Bust purchased the team from Jack Kent Cooke. The series began at the Forum Inglewood with the Lakers recording a 109-102 win as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led the way with 33 points and 14 rebounds, while Magic Johnson had a triple-double with 16 points, 11 rebounds, and ten assists. The Sixers jumped out to a 20-point lead in Game 2, holding off a late Lakers charge to win 107-104. In the game, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar dominated again with a game-high 38 points. However, the 76ers balanced it with big games from Darryl Dawkins, who had 25 points, Maurice Cheeks and Julius Erving, who had 23 points apiece. 

As the series shifted to the Spectrum, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar remained large and in charge, scoring 33 points with 14 boards as the Lakers won 111-101 to retake control of the series. Game 4 was a classic back and forth battle won by Philadelphia 105-102. In the game, Dr. J. performed surgery with his signature baseline move, scoring 23, while Dawkins led the way with 26 points. 


In Game 5, at the Forum, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was having another monster game, with 26 points in the third quarter when he stepped on the foot of Lionel Hollins when running down the court, twisting his ankle. Kareem managed to play through the pain and scored 40 points as the Lakers won 108-103, outdueling the 36 points scored by Julius Erving. 

While Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was able to finish Game 5, doctors shut him down for Game 6 as the Lakers went to Philadelphia without him seeking to bring home the NBA Championship. With Magic Johnson moved to center, the Lakers jumped out to an early 7-0 lead at the Spectrum. The Sixers rallied to take an eight-point lead in the second quarter, but with the Lakers collapsing defense focusing on Dr. J., began to seize control. The Lakers started the third quarter on a 14-0 run and never looked back, winning 123-10. Julius Erving scored 27 points, but the rest of the Sixers scuffled. The Lakers would get 42 points and 15 rebounds from Magic Johnson, who won the NBA Finals MVP, as Jamaal Wilkes added 37 points.