No doubt about it, the seattle supersonics set the NBA on its ear this season. First the Sonics traded a point guard they didn't need (Gerald Henderson) to the New York Knicks for, in effect, the fifth pick in the upcoming NBA draft. Then Sonic forward Tom Chambers was named MVP of the All-Star Game. Finally, with coach Bernie Bickerstaff substituting in waves and finding shots for his deadeye, Dale Ellis, Seattle beat the Dallas Mavericks and the Houston Rockets to advance to the NBA Western Conference finals. Once there, the Sonics even had ideas about knocking off the Lakers. But, in the end, that was like trying to hold back the tide. Seattle had a good year, but the Lakers are a great team. You can find out how good you are by losing to them. Now the Sonics know.
On Saturday, down 0-2 and at home in front of 14,657 fans in full throat at the Seattle Coliseum, the Sonics threw their best game at the Lakers. Seattle shot 51% from the floor and outrebounded the Lakers by 16 on the offensive board (21-5). Forward Xavier McDaniel, playing so hard he had friction burns on his thighs, scored 42 points. Still the Sonics lost, 122-121. And it never really seemed that close. "We played well. We just didn't play well enough to beat the Lakers," said Bickerstaff.
You know the script by now. Kareem hooked. Magic ran the show. Worthy dunked. Cooper blocked. The rest of the Lakers did what they had to do, and coach Pat Riley kept it all in order.
"They played hard," Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said of the Sonics, "but they played me one-on-one with guys who couldn't stop me." Lest we forget why it was impossible to stop Kareem when he was 25, the 40-year-old Laker didn't miss a shot on Saturday until he blew a layup late in the third quarter. He was 8 for 8 until then and finished with 28 points on a day when the skyhook reigned supreme. Even Johnson and Worthy hit them.
May 31, 1987
"There's no forward in the league playing better than James Worthy," said Chambers, the would-be defender on many of the 39 very Worthy points. When the Sonics were within five points late in the game, it was Worthy who went baseline on a mission, exploding a dunk over 7-foot Alton Lister. The assist? Need you ask? It was Magical.
Johnson had reentered the game with five fouls, the Lakers leading 101-98 and 7:35 left. He proceeded to pass out an assist to Michael Cooper and two more to Worthy, make a steal and hit a layup on a three-point play to put the Lakers up 112-104. Magic finished with 19 points, 11 assists and 7 rebounds.
Asked before Game 3 about Seattle's success in slowing the vaunted Laker fast break in the first two games, Johnson had said that whatever the Sonics wanted to do, he was ready. "If they want us to walk it up, fine," said Magic. "We have one or two half-court options."
Magic himself is but one Laker option and merely the most valuable player in the NBA. And when you think about all the great NBA players who contend for that honor, it only sometimes seems as if most of them play for L.A.