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Magic Johnson reflects on 1980, 1987 NBA Finals

August 2, 2011 |  4:10 pm

The flashing images on the wide screen provided a tangible reminder of the legacy he left behind.

The newspaper clipping next to him illustrated the immediate imprint he left with the Lakers.

The hundreds of fans in attendance at Loyola Marymount University showed how his popularity hasn't diminished.

Certainly, the one-on-one conversation featuring Magic Johnson with Times columnist Bill Plaschke provided a nostalgic vibe. They revisited Johnson's numerous accomplishments. Johnson shared previously untold stories from his Lakers playing days. And many in the audience walked away captivated. 

In an hour-long panel, there was plenty to take away. Johnson expressed interest in being part of an ownership group of a future NFL team in Los Angeles and possibly even the Dodgers. He shared his feelings from nearly 20 years ago when he was diagnosed with HIV. And of course, he relived his numerous Lakers accomplishments, the main ones being his performance in the 1980 and 1987 NBA Finals. Below is a look at those performances. 

Magic Johnson started at center in Lakers' 123-107 Game 6 victory over Philadelphia 76ers to clinch 1980 NBA Finals.

The Lakers appeared somber and grim after hearing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar badly sprained his ankle. Johnson sounded optimistic and giddy about the opportunity. 

Not only did he take the Captain's seat on the team plane, he also assumed the leadership position.

"Never fear, Magic is here," Johnson recalled boasting to his teammates.

Johnson's teammates gave him puzzled and stern looks considering Abdul-Jabbar's absence struck a huge blow to the Lakers and Johnson was only a rookie at the time. But Johnson didn't allow the bad break to keep the Lakers from securing their second championship in Los Angeles in a series-clinching Game 6 in Philadelphia.

"I'm going to Philly to win so everybody better jump on board because we can beat Philly without Kareem," Johnson said. 

Johnson ensured that by starting at center, playing all five positions and even proved instrumental in calming his teammates' nerves. He became the youngest player and the first rookie to win the NBA Finals most valuable player award, posting 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists and knocking down all 14 of his free throws. 

Said Johnson: "That's my greatest individual game in the Finals."

Lakers' 107-106 Game 4 victory over Boston Celtics in 1987 NBA Finals featured Johnson's "junior sky hook."

All season, Johnson had promised he'd deliver in the clutch moment. But with the Lakers trailing by 16 points with five minutes to play in the third quarter, it seemed unlikely that one would arise. It also seemed unlikely when the Lakers faced an eight-point deficit with 3 1/2 minutes remaining.

But they stormed back, and after Abdul-Jabbar missed a free throw and Mychal Thompson knocked the rebound away from what legendary broadcaster Chick Hearn called a "crying Kevin McHale," the Lakers had another chance. So there Johnson stood on the court, about to make a play that would become part of Lakers lore -- and one of Hearn's signature calls. He soon thought about the Lakers' loss in the 1984 NBA Finals to Boston and how he wouldn't let that happen again. 

"I'm in the same situation and I had the ball in my hand and I can determine the outcome of it," Johnson said. Coach [Pat] Riley called the play to dump it into Kareem, but I flashed back to '84 when I failed and I thought, 'There's no way Kareem is going to get this ball.'"

Abdul-Jabbar set a screen for Johnson so he could cut toward the near side and receive the inbounds pass from Michael Cooper. Johnson immediately saw Celtics forward McHale guarding him because of confusion over a defensive switch, but Johnson resisted the urge to shoot.

Instead, he charged toward the paint, as McHale lagged behind. Johnson extended the ball up in the air with a hook shot in the lane over three defenders.

"A hook shot at 12," Hearn said in an excited tone. "Good! The Lakers take the lead on Magic Johnson's running sky hook!"

"I didn't know I would shoot a hook shot," Johnson said. "That was the shot that was available to me. I'm just happy that God blessed me that it went in and that we ended up winning the series."

It was the defining moment of the Lakers' Game 4 victory over Boston, but the game wasn't over. The Celtics still had a chance to win with two seconds remaining. That's when Dennis Johnson threw an inbounds pass to Larry Bird in the far corner, nearly the same spot where Bird had drilled a three-pointer seconds earlier.

When Bird launched the shot, Johnson initially thought it was going in, but it hit the back iron and bounced out, and the Lakers had a 3-1 series lead. They would clinch the championship, the fourth of the five they won during the 1980s, five days later with a 106-93 victory in Game 6 at the Forum.

"That '87 team was probably the best team that ever played in basketball," Johnson said. "When you think about that team, from top to bottom, it was an amazing group of guys."


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Magic Johnson talks about possibly owning an NFL team or the Dodgers

--Mark Medina

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