Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

1980 NBA Finals

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Dates  May 4–16
Champion  Los Angeles Lakers
1980 NBA Finals icdnturnercomnbanbahistoryfeaturesmoment1
MVP  Magic Johnson (Los Angeles Lakers)
Television  CBS (U.S.) (Game 6 live only in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Portland, Seattle and Las Vegas; tape-delayed most elsewhere)
Announcers  Brent Musburger, Rod Hundley, and Bill Russell
Game 1:  Earl Strom and Jack Madden
Game 2:  Joe Gushue and Jake O'Donnell
Similar  1982 NBA Finals, 1981 NBA Finals, 1984 NBA Finals, 1983 NBA Finals, 1985 NBA Finals

Magic johnson started at center 1980 nba finals g6

The 1980 NBA World Championship Series was the championship round of the 1979–80 NBA season.


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was the league's MVP, but midway through Game 5, the Lakers center suffered a severely sprained ankle. He managed to come back in the game in the fourth quarter to lead the Lakers to victory and a 3-2 lead in the best-of-seven series. But the Lakers still had to travel to Philadelphia for Game 6. Abdul-Jabbar was listed as out of Game 6, although 76ers coach Billy Cunningham was quoted as saying "I won't believe he's not playing until their plane lands and he's not on it." As it turned out, Kareem did not make the trip and was listed as doubtful if Game 7 had been needed.

In Game 6, Magic Johnson played what may have been the greatest game of his career. Playing on the road, Johnson (a 6'9" rookie point guard) started the game at center and eventually played all five positions in a dominating performance. Scoring a game-high 42 points and grabbing a game-high 15 rebounds—and handing out seven assists— Johnson led the Lakers to the NBA crown. The Lakers also received strong performances from Jamaal Wilkes with 37 points and 10 rebounds, and Norm Nixon. Jim Chones played strong defense on 76er center Darryl Dawkins, while Mark Landsberger provided rebounding off the bench, and little used Brad Holland chipped in eight key points.

Magic Johnson's performance in Game 6 and the series earned him the 1980 NBA Finals Most Valuable Player. What made Johnson's performance even more remarkable was that he was an NBA rookie—and, indeed, one who had left college after only two years, and was only 20 years old. "Jamaal Wilkes had an unbelievable game", said Johnson in 2011. "Everybody talked about my 42 [points], but it was also his [37-point effort]."

On a side note, here, in Game 4 of the 1980 Finals, Julius Erving executed the legendary Baseline Move, an incredible, behind-the-board reverse layup that seemed to defy gravity. Play-by-play announcer Brent Musburger has noted that Erving made such moves almost routinely in his ABA days—but the ABA had no national TV contract in those days. This Game 4 move, played to a national audience in a title game, has probably become Julius Erving's most famous move.

This was also the first NBA Finals to make use of the three-point line, which debuted that season.

1980 nba finals sixers at lakers gm 1 part 1 11

Los Angeles Lakers

The last time the Lakers won the NBA championship was in 1972. In the eight years between championships, the Lakers made the NBA Finals again in 1973 and lost to the New York Knicks in five games. Then Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West retired, and the Lakers missed the playoffs in 1975 and 1976. In between, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was acquired, and the Lakers returned to prominence in 1977, but Kareem couldn't do it alone.

The Lakers earned the top pick of the 1979 NBA draft (traded as compensation by the New Orleans Jazz after signing Gail Goodrich in 1976) and selected Magic Johnson from Michigan State. It was one of then-owner Jack Kent Cooke's final acts before selling the team to Jerry Buss during that summer. While Magic dazzled in his rookie season, Kareem would enjoy an MVP campaign in the Lakers' 60–22 regular season. This despite an early season coaching change where Paul Westhead assumed head coaching duties following a bicycle accident to Jack McKinney.

Behind Johnson's passing, Abdul-Jabbar's post play and Michael Cooper's perimeter shooting and defense, the trio formed the core of the Lakers' Showtime-era teams. The chemistry between the three was evident early on, as the Lakers eliminated the Phoenix Suns and defending champions Seattle SuperSonics in a pair of five-game playoff series to advance to the NBA Finals.

Philadelphia 76ers

Julius Erving arrived before the 1976–77 season, and with him as the focal point of the offense, the 76ers soon transformed into a title contender. But after losing to the Portland Trail Blazers in the 1977 NBA Finals, the 76ers realized that a fancy and one-on-one style of play will not take them all the way. Thus they hired former player Billy Cunningham as head coach, and in 1978 the team traded for defensive stalwart Bobby Jones and drafted Maurice Cheeks, while letting go players such as George McGinnis and World B. Free.

In the 1979–80 season the 76ers finished 59–23, two games behind the Boston Celtics in the Atlantic Division. In the playoffs, they eliminated the Washington Bullets in two games, and the Atlanta Hawks in five games. In the Eastern Conference Finals, the 76ers faced NBA Rookie of the Year Award winner Larry Bird and the 61–win Celtics, and owing to the core's three consecutive playoff appearances, the more experienced 76ers were favored to win the series. Proving the prognosticators right, Philadelphia won in five games, preventing the first Celtics–Lakers final since 1969.

The 76ers were the first of the four Philadelphia professional sports teams to play for their respective sports' championships in the 1980 season. The Flyers lost the Stanley Cup Finals against the New York Islanders in overtime of Game 6, eight days after the 76ers fell to the Lakers in their Game 6. The Phillies beat the Kansas City Royals, themselves in six games, in the World Series. The Eagles lost Super Bowl XV to the Oakland Raiders in January 1981.

Of note, this marked the first of the ten NBA Finals played in the 1980s, all of which featured either the Boston Celtics or the Los Angeles Lakers (three Finals featured both teams).

Regular season series

Both teams split the two meetings, each won by the home team:

Game 1

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, playing on a mission and finally with an effective supporting cast around him, scored 33 points, pulled down 14 rebounds, and had six blocks and five assists on the way to a 109-102 win in the Forum. Norm Nixon had 23 points and Jamaal Wilkes finished with 20 while the Lakers did an excellent double-teaming job on Julius Erving. Rookie Magic Johnson contributed 16 points, 10 assists and 11 rebounds.

Game 2

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar continued to dominate, with 38 points in Game 2. But, this time, he got very little help as the Laker break never got going.

Julius Erving scored 12 points in the first quarter on his way to 23, beginning the game with a dunk over Abdul-Jabbar. Maurice Cheeks matched Erving's total of 23 points, while Bobby Jones added 13 off the bench. The key was Darryl Dawkins, who had one of his best games of the season by scoring 25 points, many of them on outside shots trying to draw Abdul-Jabbar away from the basket.

The Sixers led by as much as 20 in the fourth period, but the Lakers roared back, trimming the lead to 105-104 late in the game. Then, Jones popped in a jumper with seven seconds left, and that was enough for a 107-104 Philly win that tied the series at a game apiece.

Game 3

With a split in L.A., the Sixers were hoping to take command of the series with the next two games in Philadelphia. The Lakers, however, ended those hopes by taking a 15-point lead in the first quarter. Julius Erving led a short comeback in the second, but a 9-0 run by the Lakers extended their lead to 14 at the half.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar once again had a big game with 33 points, 14 rebounds, four blocks and three assists as the Lakers cruised to a 111-101 win. Julius Erving scored the only three-pointer of the series in this game.

Game 4

This game was a nip-and-tuck affair that was highlighted by Julius Erving's signature "Baseline Move" in the fourth quarter. The Sixers went on to even the series with a 105-102 win. Darryl Dawkins led the Sixers with 26 points and Erving added 23.

Game 5

Back at the Forum, the Lakers held a two-point lead late in the third quarter when Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stepped on Lionel Hollins' foot as he was running upcourt after a Laker basket and twisted his ankle. At that point, Kareem had scored 26 points and was carrying the Lakers, but now he was in the locker room. Magic Johnson then asserted himself by scoring six points and added an assist as Los Angeles moved up by eight at the end of the third.

Abdul-Jabbar then limped back onto the floor. His appearance aroused the Forum regulars and, despite the bad ankle, scored 11 points and had two key blocked shots down the stretch. The Sixers, however, had Julius Erving who scored 11 of the Sixers last 13 points to complete an 8-point comeback, and tie the game at 103-103 with only 43 seconds remaining.

On the Lakers possession, Darryl Dawkins was trying to front Abdul-Jabbar but to no avail as Magic threw a pass overhead so only Erving stood between Kareem and the basket. Abdul-Jabbar, bad ankle and all, dunked emphatically over Erving and drew the foul with 33 seconds left. He converted the 3-point play to take a 106-103 lead.

After a timeout, the Sixers put the ball in the hands of Erving, who tried a spectacular, scooping finger-roll, but missed. Magic got the rebound to seemingly seal the win, but the Lakers tried to force the fast-break and ended up turning the ball over, out-of-bounds. However, the Sixers turned the ball right back over by stepping out of bounds on a desperation 3-point attempt. Norm Nixon would finally seal the game at the foul line by making both of his foul shots. The victory gave the Lakers the crucial 3-2 series lead heading back to Philadelphia.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's 14 point 4th quarter on a bad ankle capped an overall 40-point performance. After Game 5 Abdul-Jabbar was averaging 33.4 points per game as compared to eventual MVP Magic Johnson's 17.4.

Game 6

The Lakers' team doctors declared Abdul-Jabbar and his bad ankle unfit for Game 6 (he wasn't even allowed to make the trip to Philadelphia with the team because of the swelling), so Laker coach Paul Westhead made a bold move by asking Magic Johnson to jump center. Johnson had no problem and was up to the challenge, although he would lose the famous opening tip to Caldwell Jones. Early on, the Sixers seemed unsure how to counter the matchup problem. The Lakers went up 7-0, then 11-4. Finally, the Sixers used their newfound size advantage in the second quarter to take a 52-44 lead. The Lakers countered by collapsing more in the paint and rallied for a 60-60 tie at the half.

Los Angeles opened the third period with a 14-0 run, keyed by Jamaal Wilkes, who had 16 points in the quarter. In the fourth with a little over five minutes left, the Sixers had rallied to cut the Laker lead to 103-101. After a timeout, the previously tired Lakers went on one last run, with Magic scoring nine points down the stretch on the way to a final 123-107 margin.

Wilkes had a career-high 37 points and added 10 rebounds. Jim Chones effectively shut down the middle in place of Abdul-Jabbar and finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds, and held Darryl Dawkins to 14 points and a scant four rebounds. Michael Cooper, in a rare start, scored 16 points, and Mark Landsberger contributed 10 boards.

But, this night belonged to the rookie MVP Magic. He scored 42 points, including all 14 of his free-throw attempts. He added 15 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and a block. "It was amazing, just amazing", said Erving, who led Philly with 27 points.

Player statistics

Los Angeles Lakers
Philadelphia 76ers

Television coverage

The series-deciding Game 6 became the most notorious example of CBS's practice of showing even the most important NBA games on "tape delay" broadcasts. Because May 16, 1980, was a Friday, the network did not want to preempt two of its highest-rated shows, The Dukes of Hazzard and Dallas, even though both shows were already in reruns: the 1979–80 TV season had ended early, back in March, in anticipation of a strike that summer by the Screen Actors Guild. So Game 6 was shown at 11:30pm Eastern (10:30pm Central) in all but five US cities: Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Portland, Las Vegas and Seattle, who carried it live; all but Philadelphia are located in the Pacific Time Zone, thus could show the game live at 6 p.m. local time, then carry CBS' primetime lineup, delayed by a few minutes for the ending of the game. (This is often cited as an example of TV's lack of interest in the NBA in the "pre-Magic and Bird" era.)

"A Magic Season", a season-ending documentary narrated by Brent Musburger, was the last 30-minute NBA championship documentary, recapping the 1980 NBA Playoffs. Later championship documentaries on NBA Entertainment will have 60 minutes of running time.

Quote from the Finals

It's 89–84, Sixers. They get it in-SIDE and, AND unbelievable!! Julius Erving, put it in hanging underneath-he was trapped! And he still got the field goal!

There it is, it's over and the Most Valuable Player is Magic Johnson. 42 points, 15 rebounds and 7 assists, he starts at center, plays forward and guard, and leads the Los Angeles Lakers to a world championship 123-107 over Philadelphia, without Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.


The Lakers failed to defend their NBA championship in the 1980–81 NBA season. Magic Johnson missed 45 games due to a torn cartilage in his knee. After he returned, the Lakers were never able to completely jell. They finished 54-28, three games behind the Phoenix Suns in the Pacific Division, then were upset by the 40–42 Houston Rockets 2 games to 1 in the first round of the playoffs in a series that saw the road team win every game. The Rockets would go on to make the NBA Finals that season. Lakers coach Paul Westhead was fired early in the 1981–82 NBA season, and was replaced by top assistant Pat Riley. Riley would guide the Lakers to the championship that year and three more in the decade.

The Sixers won 62 games in the 1981 season, giving Julius Erving the MVP award that season. However, the Boston Celtics owned the home-court advantage because of a tie-breaker. The two teams would meet in the Eastern Conference Finals, where the Sixers owned a 3-1 lead. However, the Celtics made a comeback, winning the final three games to oust the Sixers. They would win the NBA title that season.

The Sixers and Lakers would later meet in the NBA Finals in 1982, 1983 and 2001, with the Lakers winning two of three.


1980 NBA Finals Wikipedia