Los Angeles Lakers fans knew they were in for an amazing journey just one game into the 1979-80 NBA season. On the national stage with the game hanging in the balance, the Captain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, scored a buzzer-beating skyhook that would defeat the rival Clippers and give L.A. a win to start the season. Rookie Magic Johnson, who was making his pro debut, was so excited to win that he embraced Kareem with an emphatic hug as if they had won the title. But with 81 more games left to play in the regular season, Magic maintained that level of enthusiasm throughout and used it to put his Lakers squad in the driver’s seat heading into the NBA Playoffs.
By the time the postseason rolled around, the Lake Show, and even stoic Kareem, had caught Magic’s legendary exuberance and rode it all the way to the NBA Finals for a showdown against Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers. The teams would split the first four games before Abdul-Jabbar suffered a sprained ankle in Game 5, which the Lakers somehow managed to overcome and walk away with the victory. Kareem limped his way to scoring 14 points down the stretch.
For Game 6, it seemed as if tragedy would derail any plans for winning a title for the Lakers. When the team arrived at the airport to travel to Philadelphia, their Captain was a no-show. Kareem’s ankle would not allow him the opportunity to accompany the team on the flight, let alone make an attempt to play on it. So what would the Lakers do to replace 31 points and 12 rebounds a game (Kareem’s averages for the series)? Not to worry, Earvin Johnson took the seat on the plane that was the customary spot for the big fella and gave his coach, Paul Westhead, a wink while making a playful announcement to his teammates, “Never fear, E.J. is here!”
Although only a rookie, Johnson’s level of confidence lifted the spirits of his team, but it was his play that provided even more. Magic would step onto the Spectrum hardwood and delivered what has gone down as one of the most remarkable performances in NBA Playoff history. Unbeknown as to what was about to take place, the 76ers starters looks bewildered when Johnson stepped into the middle of the jump circle to take the opening tap for the Lakers. From that point on, the show had begun and Magic put his full arsenal on display, playing all five positions on the court. He would go on to score a game-high 42 points, pull down 15 boards, and also dish out 7 assists, leading the Lakers to a victory over a stunned Philly squad 123-107. It would be the first of Magic’s five NBA championships.
During a post-game interview, Magic looked into the camera to send Kareem a message, “This one’s for you, Big Fella!” To this day there has never been anything close to duplicating what the rookie from Lansing, Michigan pulled off on that night. Only one word could describe it.