THE NBA IN THE DECADE OF THE EIGHTIES
By STEVEN A. ROSEBORO
COPYRIGHT 2013 STEVEN A ROSEBORO
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission of the author.
FO’ FIVE FO’
Philadelphia seemed to need divine intervention if they expected to dethrone the Lakers as NBA Champions in the 1982-83 season; they would have to settle for the sublime intervention of Harold Katz’s checkbook as he landed the free agent of the Decade; Houston Center Moses Malone, winner of the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award last year for the second time in 3 seasons, brought his hard hat to the home of the Liberty Bell and the Cheesesteak. The Sixers moved immediately to the front of the line as Title favorites as the season began in November; Philadelphia sent Center Caldwell Jones to Houston as compensation, then ended the Darryl Dawkins experiment by shipping Chocolate Thunder to the swamps of New Jersey and the Nets.
The handful of skeptics who doubted if Malone, man of many rebounds but few words could co-exist with Julius Erving, the loquacious Doctor, were silenced by the torrid pace of Philadelphia’s start, the sustained pressure they kept on the rest of the League as the wins kept piling up, including a 122-120 OT win vs. Los Angeles at the Spectum, featuring a Dr J all-time top 5 “rock the baby” cuff dunk over a ducking- for- cover Michael Cooper.
The Lakers kept Philadelphia in their sights all season, and were ecstatic as top pick Worthy was born to wear the Purple and Gold. His Carolina hardwood education prepared him for a PHD in Fast Break Aerodynamics as taught by Professor Emeritus Magic Johnson. Worthy was a natural, quicker and faster than anyone on the team (a remarkable feat in itself), and finished the break with a flurry of breathtaking dunks his rookie season that had teammates and fans shaking their heads in wonder.
Worthy’s athleticism, as remarkable as it was, was no match for his basketball IQ, as he blended into the team philosophy like a veteran, making excellent interior passes to Kareem on offense, playing the passing lanes on defense, taking high percentage shots (dunks, slams, power jams and more Dunks). Not yet a steady perimeter shooter or ball handler, Magic got him the ball where he could succeed, near the rim, watching Worthy’s confidence grow with each Month. Then in an instant the Lakers’ nearly 18 month run of good fortune started to leave the building.
Double sevens weren’t so lucky for Worthy, who in his 77th NBA game, went hard to the basket on a baseline drive, and in his quantum leap to the rim caught his leg between bodies and came crashing to the Forum hardwood. Worthy suffered a fractured leg, ending his season while mortified fans watched a major part of the Lakers’ repeat title dreams carried off on a stretcher.
The Sixers sent their condolences on the way to a season ending 67-15 record, third best in NBA History. The Celtics, who had a rocky road to their 56-26 record, were now haunted by the Boston Strangler, Andrew Toney, the spectre of Moses in the Middle, the Doctor and Bobby Jones at the wings and Point Guard extraordinaire, Maurice Cheeks directing traffic. While Philadelphia’s offense was both diverse and explosive, the calling card of this team would be their defense; the Sixers would dismantle opponents with a frightening combination of Malone’s smothering the pivot, Dr J and Bobby Jones blocking everything in sight while Cheeks picked off one pass after another. They were never out of a game regardless of their deficit because they could shut a team down at will.