How Magic Johnson’s backup ended up running the show in Los Angeles

How Magic Johnson’s backup ended up running the show in Los Angeles

On November 7th, 1991, Magic Johnson shocked the entire world with his announcement that he had tested positive for the HIV virus and was retiring from the NBA. 

Magic’s sudden departure caught many off-guard. One of the most surprised was Sedale Threatt.

The 9-year pro, who was acquired by the Lakers from Seattle for three 2nd round picks, was envisioned by the Lakers architect Jerry West as a reliable back-up for Magic. 

But just overnight, with the man who personally gave him a call to come to L.A. out of the Lakers picture, the off-season acquisition found himself in the 1987 & 1988 World Champions ‘driver’s seat’.

Even with the fans skeptical about Threatt’s ability to run the show, with the season just around the corner, The Logo didn’t have enough time to work out some other solution to the Lakers’ worries.

He trusted his instincts – his gut feeling was telling him that this journeyman might just do alright.

Serving mostly as a back-up role player for the 76ers, the Bulls, and the Sonics throughout the 1980s, Threatt performed admirably, becoming known for his consistency in knocking down the mid-range J with the best of them.

Most importantly, to that point, he had already appeared in 40 Playoff games and contributed 387 points, 141 assists, and 46 steals to his respective teams – Philadelphia, Chicago, and Seattle. 

In the process of learning the pro game, he got used to playing with established superstars and prolific scorers such as Charles BarkleyMichael Jordan, and Dale Ellis, who all demanded the ball. 

That’s precisely how Jerry West envisioned Threatt’s role with the Lakers – a serviceable and durable point guard who would not be a liability on defense and who could supply the ball to the team’s leading stars.

Today, many consider perennial All-Star forward James Worthy to be the best L.A. Lakers player after Magic Johnson’s sudden departure. 

Indeed, Worthy was the Lakers’ go-to-guy and leading scorer in 1991-92 with an average of 19.9 ppg. But to be honest, the quiet guy who was holding the keys of the Lakers’ ‘fort’ was – Sedale Threatt! 

Already in the 1991-92 preseason, Threatt proved to be an instant fit with the post-Showtime Lakers providing the expected veteran leadership, covering the starting point guard role on a full-time scale.

Suddenly, it became Threatt’s ‘I’m coming out of the shadow’ L.A. party – The Thief recorded his two most productive NBA seasons by leading the 1991-92 and 1992-93 Los Angeles Lakers to the postseason.

The scouting reports said that ‘he particularly likes to shoot going to the left.’ And he would do just that – he just loved to ‘rain’ that mid-range J from the free-throw area, getting it done each and every night.

His two most impressive offensive performances while wearing the Lakers uniform were the 42-point exhibition vs. the Knicks in Madison Square Garden (on March 10th, 1992) and the masterful 35-point playoff outburst of the Suns in Phoenix in Game 1 of the 1993 Western Conference 1st Round. That was just classic Threatt.

The culmination of the 1991-92 season came in the form of Threatt’s game-winning shot in the closing seconds of the last season game, vs. their crosstown rivals – the Clippers.

Everyone in the Forum knew that Threatt would go left and shoot, and he did just that. Doc Rivers flopped on the play, and Ron Harper came over to help, trying to block Threatt’s shot. But he was just too late. 

Threatt sank the J and thus delivered the Lakers another playoff berth, in dramatic fashion. 

In the 1st round of the 1992 NBA playoffs, the Lakers faced the eventual 1992 finalist, Portland. After losing the first two games, the Lakers won Game 3 in the Forum, mostly thanks to Threatt’s clutch-time heroics. 

But, the scenery for Game 4 had completely changed. Due to the unexpected 1992 L.A. street riots, the Lakers were forced to play the decisive game in Las Vegas, Nevada. And they lost it 76-102.

In 1992-93, Threatt ‘copied’ his previous 1991-92 campaign, leading the Lakers to another postseason appearance. This time, with Threatt leading the charge, the Lakers had the eventual finalist Phoenix Suns led by Charles Barkley on the brink of the elimination, but eventually lost the exciting series by 2-3.

With the arrival of rookie sensation Nick Van Exel in 1993, who was one of the best three-point shooting point guards of that era, Threatt accepted the back-up role. He did it admirably from 1993 until 1996. 

Threatt completed his 14-year NBA career as a member of the 1996-97 Houston Rockets.