In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
The Detroit Pistons reach the promised land, completing a four-game sweep of the Los Angeles Lakers with a 105-97 win at the Forum to win their first NBA Championship. The Lakers were the walking wounded in the series as they sought a third straight title, losing Byron Scott before Game 1 and Magic Johnson after Game 2 to hamstring injuries as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was bringing an end to a 20-year career.
As the 1988/89 season began, the Detroit Pistons were the only franchise from the early days of the NBA that had never won an NBA Championship. In 1988 they came painstakingly close, losing to the Lakers in seven. Rather than feeling the heartbreak, the Pistons returned and had the best season in franchise history at 63-19 with coach Chuck Daly. It had been a season of new beginnings for the Pistons as they opened the Palace of Auburn Hills after playing the last few seasons in the Pontiac Silverdome.
The Los Angeles Lakers were the NBA’s dominant force in the 1980s, winning five championships while playing in the NBA Finals eight times in ten years. So confident were the Lakers that they would win a third straight title that Coach Pat Riley trademarked the phrase three-peat. Once again, the Lakers were the class of the Western Conference posting a record of 57-25 as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, took a bow with a league-wide victory tour in his final season.
The Pistons had a potential test in the first round as they faced the Boston Celtics, whom they had played the last two seasons in the Eastern Conference Finals. However, in a year in which Larry Bird was sidelined most of the season, the Celtics were a shell of a team, losing in three straight games. The Pistons also swept the Milwaukee Bucks in the second round to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the third straight, where they would face the upstart Chicago Bulls. The Bulls, who were learning how to win in the postseason, would push Detroit to six games, beginning a beautiful rivalry as Michael Jordan was often frustrated by the defense of Joe Dumars and Dennis Rodman.
For the Lakers, it was the end of a decade of dominance as nobody in the Western Conference could deal with Showtime and the play of Magic Johnson, James Worthy, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Looking every bit of the champions, they won 11 straight games on the way to the NBA Finals for the eighth time in ten years. The Portland Trail Blazers, Seattle Supersonics, and Phoenix Suns fell victim to the Lakers' sweeping of the West.
As the NBA Finals began at the Palace of Auburn Hills, the was an air of anticipation, expecting another seven-game war. However, during warmups, the thread on the Lakers tires began to show as Byron Scott suffered a hamstring injury that would sideline him the entire series. The loss of Scott seemed to take the wind out of the Lakers' sails as Game 1 was all Detroit; they won the game with Isiah Thomas scoring 24 and Joe Dumars putting up 22 against the Lakers' depleted backcourt. Dumars came out strong in Game 2, scoring 24 points in the first half. The Lakers gave a gritty performance and led at the half 62-56. In the fourth quarter, things began to crumble for Los Angeles, as Magic Johnson suffered a hamstring injury while dropping back on defense. In the entail moments after losing Magic, the Lakers surged in front 90-81 as Muchal Thompson played a key role. Vinnie Johnson was big off the bench scoring 18 points. The loss of the NBA’s MVP would be too much to overcome as the Pistons rallied and won the game 108-105.
At the Forum, Magic Johnson dealing with immense pain attempted to play in Game 3 but only lasted five minutes. The Lakers showed championship spirit and fought hard all game as James Worthy scored 26 points. However, Joe Dumars had a game-high 31 as the Pistons won 114-110 to take a 3-0 series lead. With Magic Johnson sidelined for Game 4, it came down to James Worthy to keep the Lakers' hopes of a three-peat alive. Worthy came out firing and had a game-high 40 as the Lakers led 35-23 and the end of the first quarter. Without Magic, the Lakers could not sustain the lead, as the Pistons proved to be the stronger and hungrier team, as Bill Laimbeer’s three-point shot in the third quarter began a methodical second-half march toward a championship. Joe Dumars would score 31 points, finishing the NBA Finals, and averaged 27.3 ppg for the series to earn MVP honors, as the Pistons completed the sweep with a 105-97 win.
With the Lakers down 3-0, fans acknowledged Kareem Abdul-Jabbar throughout Game 4. Every time he touched the ball, he was cheered. When he left the game for the final time with 47 seconds to go, he received thunderous applause, finishing his last game with 24 points and 13 rebounds, showing at the age of 42, he was still one of the best players in the game as he ended a 20-year career as the NBA’s All-Time Leading scorer with 38,387 points.