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 permissionof the author.
1984- THE CLASH OF THE TITANS
Hindsight being 20-20, everyone would say that a Laker-Celtic Clash was inevitable, as it was now four, count ‘em, four years since Magic and Bird dropped from heaven and into our living rooms. The game was experiencing continued popularity, Television ratings were climbing, and fans were flocking to see these two former phenoms, now bona fide Veterans, approach their NBA primes.
For those keeping score (meaning everyone with a pulse), their career tally read like this: Magic with three trips to the NBA Finals, two NBA titles, two Final’s MVP’s and four First Team All NBA selections, while Bird countered with one Rookie of the Year award, one NBA title and five First Team All NBA selections. The only piece of unfinished business it seemed was the endless debate that filtered from the beaches of Los Angeles across the western plain into the inner cities of the Midwest, down to the ranches of Texas, across the tip of the Florida Everglades all the way up the eastern seaboard from Broadway to the halls of Harvard, the question of…..
…Who IS number one.... Magic or Bird?
Like Democrats and Republicans, the bickering never ended, and it wouldn’t until the Lakers and Celtics finally met for the bragging rights of Professional Basketball. The Basketball Gods granted everyone’s wishes on May 27, 1984, and Larry Bird would draw first blood in what was to become the greatest best of three grudge match in modern NBA history. Revamped with a new coach and new backcourt, as Gerald Henderson and Danny Ainge joined newest Boston addition Dennis Johnson, Bird relocated his mojo and the Celtics regained their swagger in 1984, events which are never mutually exclusive. Bird, with 24.2 points, 10.1 rebounds and 6.8 assists per game won his first NBA Most Valuable Player award as Boston reclaimed supremacy in the Eastern Conference, their 62-20 record the NBA’s best.
Philadelphia suffered not only key injuries during the season but an understandable bout of malaise after dominating the NBA in 1982-83. Their Superstars, Julius Erving and Moses Malone, both suffered with fragile knees, the trauma of thousands of ABA and NBA minutes taking its toll. Andrew Toney also was not immune, struggling with foot and ankle problems. In spite of the injuries, Philly still came together to win 52 games, but finished a distant 10 games behind the Celtics.
Even when healthy, the sense of urgency so evident last season was noticeably absent from their play, a marked contrast to the overdrive of their competitors to the far north in Boston. Something was also brewing just north on I-95, as the New York Knicks were back in the winning business. Coach Hubie Brown’s crew won 47 games, moving back atop the League leaders in defense while riding a tidal wave of offense by their brilliant Forward Bernard King, a virtual one man gang that was having his own MVP caliber season, averaging 26.3 points per game. King scored 50 points on consecutive nights in February of 84, the first Player to achieve that mark since Wilt the Stilt turned the trick in 1962.
In the West, the Lakers would welcome back James Worthy and bid farewell to guard Norm Nixon, traded to the San Diego-soon- to- be -Los Angeles Clippers over the summer in exchange for the Clippers first round pick, guard Byron Scott from Arizona State University. Los Angeles shook off the embarrassment of the Sixer sweep, and again laid claim to the Western Conference penthouse, averaging 115.6 points per game to win the West at 54-28. Worthy, who came back from his broken leg stronger than ever, showed no signs of a sophomore jinx, giving Magic his wide reciever for the rest of his career. Magic to
Worthy became the NBA’s version of Joe Montana to Jerry Rice, the gold standard of the transition game, while Worthy’s overall improvement was duly noted by the rest of the League, as Forwards Dominique Wilkins, Terry Cummings and Indiana’s Clark Kellogg had diverted attention from 1982’s number one draft pick.
By season’s end , nine of the top twelve highest scoring teams resided in the West, while nine of the top twelve defensive squads hung their hats east of the Mississippi. The Eastern Conference placed three 50 win teams in the Playoffs, Boston, Philadelphia and Milwaukee, with Isiah Thomas and Detroit surging with 49. Los Angeles by stark contrast was the only 50 win team in a down year for the Western Conference. The Lakers, second in total offense, and Boston, third overall defensively, symbolized the contrasting styles of play that would define their respective conferences throughout the remainder of the decade. The Season’s best were honored as Kareem and Magic would join Bernard King, Isiah Thomas and MVP Bird on the All- NBA First Team.