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THE GOLDEN AGE OF BASKETBALL
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.
1981-82: MCADOO DOES IT
The Lakers summer of discontent lasted well past training camp in October of 1981 as the bruised egos had not sufficiently healed, and not surprisingly, Coach Paul Westhead was thrown head first into the fray, then under the Bus. The Soap Opera was back with a full head of steam. Laker owner Jerry Buss kicked off the proceedings with a bang; he tore up Magic’s contract and signed him to an unprecedented 25 year, 25 million dollar “personal services contract”, a neutron bomb over the sporting world, a time bomb in Lakerland. Magic’s dumbfounded teammates dropped their calculators and called their Agents, wondering if Magic’s “personal services” included being Dr. Buss’s mole in the locker room.
Once the smoke cleared, Westhead wanted to keep everyone happy in training camp, starting with his meal ticket, Kareem, who was still smarting from the Playoff loss to Houston, and now Magic’s contract. Magic, now viewed by some, however unfairly, as an extension of Laker management, was stuck in quite the perilous position for the 3rd year point guard, as his loyalty and priorities were openly questioned by both teammates and the growing tabloid media. As the season started, Westhead’s priorities involved running more of the offense through Abdul-Jabbar, the coach tinkering as such in both the pre-season and the beginning of the regular season.
This new dump it into Kareem mode meant running less, resulting in a 2 and 4 start, which irked the newly minted Magic. The still very young and increasingly restless Magical One complained to the Media in the midst of a 5 game winning streak about his unhappiness with the offense and not having fun anymore and team jealousies and his willingness to be traded, all those open revelations a cardinal sin, as the gossip hit the wires immediately, and quicker than you could say “West-Head’s on a platter” there were tabloid stories that read to the effect of ; “ A Defiant Magic’s ultimatum: Either the Coach goes or I go”.
Tune in to the next episode as Laker Owner Jerry Buss abruptly deletes Westhead from the team picture before the team plane lands, tries to bring in Jerry West and former Laker now Laker Assistant Pat Riley as “Co-Coaches” until Riley is deemed fit to steer the Laker ship (The Titanic?) solo. Reality television at its finest.
In case anyone cared, there was still a season going on which the Lakers agreed to continue with their new coach, “winging it” and eventually came to grips with the fact that they still had the most talented team in the NBA, a Hall of Fame Center, All-NBA first team Guard and All Star caliber supporting cast. They simply needed a Headmaster. Riley found a better Tailor, some hair products, reviewed his Psychology 101 notes, and by mid season the man formerly known as Assistant Coach Riles morphed into Head Coach Pat Riley. Once the leadership issue was settled, there was the more pressing issue of firepower.
With nearly a third of the season over, Los Angeles wanted to strengthen their frontline to combat the Rockets in the West, Boston and Philadelphia in the East. They were acutely aware that Kareem would not be enough to weather the storm by himself. The Lakers thought they had addressed that problem in the off season with the signing of talented free agent Forward Mitch Kupchak of the Washington Bullets to a rich contract (another sore spot in the locker room) prior to the season, believing Kupchak the answer to the Power Forward spot previously handled by committee; Spencer Haywood, Jim Chones, Mark Landsburger and Magic in spot duty all took turns at the position depending on the matchups. Kupchak, who averaged 12.1 points and 8.9 rebounds in his 5 years with the Washington Bullets seemed a significant upgrade alongside Kareem, someone who could matchup against Moses Malone or the Boston/Philly frontlines.
That grand plan lasted all of 18 games after Kupchak suffered a horrible knee injury involving 3 structures, needing major reconstructive surgery which placed his NBA future in doubt. It wasn’t until just before Christmas, 1981, that Santa would deliver a special gift to Lakerland. GM Bill Sharman took a huge gamble on Center Bob McAdoo, a supremely talented but oft- maligned free agent who had been cast aside as a selfish ball hog and bounced around the league as the poster child for the “me generation” of the late 70’s. Jumping at a chance to contend for an NBA title and play beside Kareem and Magic, McAdoo was the key player acquisition of the 1982 season.
Once rounding into Laker -shape, a rejuvenated McAdoo began his second career off the bench for Los Angeles, adding instant offense while playing better defense than anticipated, playing center with a previously effective small unit that suddenly became deadly; Magic, Nixon, Cooper, Wilkes and McAdoo were floor-burners of the highest order. McAdoo also showed that his signature jumper still had plenty of pop, and his minutes grew with each month. As the Laker fast break found a new gear, Riley added a new wrinkle on the other side of the ball; a three quarter court trap defense that took teams out of their rhythm, repeatedly forcing turnovers to ignite the break.
It took the entire season to mesh the new coach, new bench catalyst and a surprise starter, walk-on Forward Kurt Rambis, a free agent signed as a roster filler but thrust into the mix when Kupchak went down. The bespectacled Rambis was the perfect garbage man for a team that didn’t always like to get down and dirty, approaching every game as if he were playing for a back room, a hot bath and a meal instead of an NBA salary. He became an instant Forum favorite as the refocused Lakers finished the season on a 21-3 roll, a glimpse of things to come...