Saturday, July 30, 2011
CENTRE OF ATTENTION
A Magic moment.
By TIM DAVID HARVEY
Lets take it back, way back, back into time, to something videotaped earlier. It's Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals and the Los Angeles Lakers lead the Philadelphia 76ers three games to two, but their player of the decade, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has gone down to an ankle injury. In the first five games number 33 averaged his jersey number in points. Still now with the Captain staying in Southern California and not making the trip to Philly, who would replace him and fill his spot? "Never here, E.J. Is here", a young Rookie point guard told his team as as he took a seat in the Captain's chair on the Lakers aeroplane ride to Philadelphia, smiling that soon to be infamous, toothy grin.
NBA FINALS-GAME 6. 1980.
Earvin Johnson was determined to show the Lakers, Sixers, the NBA and the whole world his Magic as the 6 foot 9 inch guard known for passing more then shooting was primed to step in at centre and take on Jabbar's scoring load. Still, nobody believed that the Magic man could pull something out the bag. "See you in L.A. for Game 7", Philly fans told the Lakers. Another revolutionary basketball legend saw things differently however. Bill Russell tells us pregame "the pressures on Philadelphia". Meanwhile a smiling Earvin-speaking like a young kid from the country-is humble and ready, telling the press pregame "I enjoy challenges, it's a challenge tonight to see what I can do", before saying hello to Mr. and Mrs. Johnson. Everyone is watching this young man, from his family in Lansing to Kareem in L.A. Game on!
Magic doesn't win the battle of the tip but he gets down to war in the paint with Darryl Dawkins proving he's ready. Jaamal Wilkes first basket is smooth as silk, as is his second to open up the game. Philly's Mo' Cheeks then goes coast to coast as Magic's great pass to Cooper comes up short on a basket. Magic is still playing like a point as well as a pivot, hitting from the perimeter. His wizard like tricks putting his opposition in a spell of trouble. Following a great Julius Erving lay-up gets the Philadelphia crowd into it, Magic comes right back at him inside. Then Mike Bibby's dad Henry comes in and scores, facing off with the dominant Lakers (get used to it Bibby family). Magic moves and hooks in the paint doing his best Kareem impression, getting his 'Cap on. Right back on the other end of the floor Erving dunks and hangs to avoid hurting Earv', for the most respectful dunk ever. Then as the first quarter becomes spare change, Magic's rolling hook quietens the Sixers run and the legendary Spectrum crowd.
To open the second chapter Bibby's still so hot from downtown, obviously he's taught his son a few things. As Philly take the lead this looks like their game, but we'll see. To counter Magic makes a three point play after he's fouled on the put back. Then Chones' breakaway dunk brings it back to within 2 as Johnson takes a deserved seat. Timeout. The 76ers are running circles round the Lake Show that could prevent them from receiving rings until Magic brings it back to within two for his 20Th point. The game remains closer then Rosie Gaines, while Dawkins 'Spine-Chiller Supreme' dunk punctuates the last minute of the half, before Magic intercepts the next offence however stopping Dr. J. from doing the same. Then Brad Holland ties it for the third time coming off the bench this quarter for Los Angeles. Good job. Johnson's half-court hook shot at the buzzer however rims out, Earvin's rabbit out the hat magic almost gives the Lakers a lead but we're all tied up at 40 at the half.
Magic starts things off in the third from the baseline. Then his look away pass to Cooper tricks the Sixers, 64-60 Lakers. Magic lays the table and serves Wilkes for the layup, it's Showtime, before it's time as the Houdini of the hardwood is making David Blaine plays. Time for some food for thought for the 76ers as there's a lot at stake in Philly now. Cooper makes it eight in a row since the half and the Philadelphia crowd has no words to go with their teams zero points. Philly and even Bibby are looking cold compared to the hot Magic and Lakers. The pressure cookers on but this game isn't far from the refrigerator. Storming Norm Nikon, crosses quick and rattles in his first field goal of the game, making his point as lead guard. The Lakers then lead by a dozen, while Philly's championship hopes are rotting like bad eggs. This is one of those moments in games where nerves are fried, loose balls are scrambled and clutch plays are poached. It's Magic's set shot however that whisks the home-team further out of shape. That's until the good Doctor comes with the right prescription with back to back buckets. It's still a ballgame. Time for the final act.
Lansberger's rebound dunk off Nikon's missed lay-up puts the Lakers up a perfect 10 after a slow and steady, calm before the storm start to the end of Game 6. Erving's hard dunk gives everyone in Pennsylvania hope as does Bobby Jones defensive block and rebound, but then the Lakers Chones takes the thunder out of Dawkins chocolate. A bitter foul by Darryl on the other end of the floor sends the tough warrior Cooper to the hard-wood. Here comes the drama and the smelling salts. Doctor Julius' medicine is going down as Philly are getting back up into reach of Los Angeles. It's 97-93, with 7:23 to go. In the last five the countdown to the championship should begin, but the 'City of Brotherly Love's' fans don't think its over, jumping up and down like Sly Stallone at the top of those famous steps. Then Magic slows everything down at four, quarterbacking this game and looking for that knockout punch with Philly on the ropes. Cheeks brings it back to five and with 3 minutes to go, this looks to go down to the wire...
...Then a Nixon to Magic collabo play makes a point of guarding the Laker lead as L.A. watches the throne they're about to take. Following this a Magic dunk is an exclamation point to show that the Lakers are going back to Kareem and Los Angeles with the championship. Then the last minute turns into a lay-up line as Wilkes dunks home his 37Th point, its Magic's 42 point, 15 rebounds and 7 assists however that put the Lakers over the edge and on top with the title. This time the rookie that hugged Kareem in the first game of the season like they won it all is embraced by Butch Lee when they finally do. Magic's smile says it all for these Los Angeles kings, 'we are the champions'.
A humble Jerry Buss (dressed more like he'd join Phil Jackson on his ranch) also in his rookie year (as an owner) thanks his team. There's no gel in Pat Riley's hair but he's still as slick as ever ready to take the party back to Hollywood before his real work begins. Still the man of the moment is Magic, and though it was a tough call, NBA and family legend Rick Barry informs an even humbler, almost embarrassed Earvin that he is the Finals MVP, for taking over from Kareem. Pete Vescey said it best "Magic played in Lew of Alcindor" but Earvin said it right, with a salute to Kareem saying, "Big Fella, I did it for you". The Lakers first championship of their incredible eighties was won by a combined effort throughout the series, but in the crucial, deciding game it was number 32, not 33 that sealed the Lakers victory. Earvin 'Magic' Johnson truly gave the league one of it's best moments. Philadelphia in 1980 is where amazing truly happened and history was made, engraved in championship gold and set in NBA stone.