LONG-RUNNING HIT: PLAYOFF NIGHT FEVER
When it's time for postseason play, even Julius Erving has some new moves. In the championship series against Los Angeles, he drove past Mark Landsberger with a quick step and a dribble, then leaped for a routine stuff. Suddenly Erving saw Kareem Abdul-Jabbar looming above him. Adjusting in midair, the Doctor sailed under the backboard, reached behind his back with his right arm, pumped twice and scooped in a spinning shot. Such spectacular play permeated the entire series. In an extraordinary seven-game set-to, Seattle and Milwaukee were separated by just 28 points, and the visiting team won four times. The victorious SuperSonics were so spent by the effort that the Lakers gobbled 'em up-four games to one-in the western Conference finals.
IT WAS A SEASON OF MAGIC MOMENTS
At times it looked less like basketball than some zany new board game: Crazy-Ball, maybe, or Reverso-Ball. Boston, which had the best record in the regular season, was eliminated from the playoffs by Philadelphia, four games to one. The defending champions from Seattle were wiped out by Los Angeles. The 1978-79 champions from Washington were shut out in a first-round mini-series by the 76ers. It was truly a pivotal, out-with-the-old, in-with-the-new season. We saw the last of Dave Cowens, Rick Barry, Pete Maravich, Paul Silas, Jo Jo White, Dave Meyers and, in all probability, Bill Walton, while Earvin (Magic) Johnson and Larry Bird had a greater impact on the league than any newcomers since Bill Russell. What they proved, to all those who had forgotten, was that the terms "flashy" and "team basketball" need not be contradictory.
Rookie of the Year Bird's outside shooting and outasight passing helped give the Celtics a 61-21 record, up from 29-53 the season before. But the championship mantle fell to Johnson, who had played on state high school and national collegiate championship teams in two of his previous three seasons. Before the Magic moment, however, familiar war-horses put on quite a show. The championship series began as a duel between L.A.'s Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Philly's Julius Erving. The MVP of the regular season, Abdul-Jabbar beat out the Doctor in points (33.4-25.1 per game) and rebounds (68-35) as the Lakers took a 3-2 lead. In the third quarter of the fifth game, however, Kareem sprained an ankle. He hobbled back to score 14 points in the fourth quarter, including a tie-breaking three-point play with 33 seconds left, and the Lakers won 108-103. But they went to Philadelphia for the sixth game without him. And whom did LA. have jumping center? Why, the 20-year-old, 6'9" erstwhile guard, Johnson. Giggling. The 76ers found his performance—42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists—anything but amusing. Thanks to his all-court play, the Lakers won the game 123-107 and the NBA title on a night they were minus the services of the most commanding player in the game. "Amazing," said Erving, "just amazing."
February 12, 1981
In his finest—and happiest—season, Kareem towered over an entire league.
Butch Lee and Johnson celebrated the Magic.
The 76ers' Darryl Dawkins could push aside such muscular foes as L.A.'s Landsberger and Jim Chones, but against the very best he was Kareemed.
Soaring over Lionel Hollins' body and Dawkins' arm, Magic looked every bit the dominating center. In fact, in the final game he played all five positions.
Larry Bird's deftness brought Boston from last to first in the Atlantic.
A common sight: Dr. J switching hands and driving past an outwitted opponent; here Atlanta's Goose Givens tries to keep pace.
Bob Lanier and Jack Sikma made a disarming couple under the hoop.
Even the Doctor could get the treatment, as the Knicks' Toby Knight demonstrated. An inadequate supporting cast again cost Erving an NBA title.
During a season of high drama, the fans supplied the comic relief.