Magic fills in at center

Magic fills in at center

The Los Angeles Lakers led by Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson’s enthusiasm rode it to a Finals date against Julius Erving and the Philadelphia 76ers. The teams split the first four games before Abdul-Jabbar suffered a sprained ankle in Game 5, which the Lakers somehow managed to win anyway 108-103. Abdul-Jabbar limped his way to 14 points down the stretch.

Then came Game 6. Game 6 looked like it would be a different story. When the team gathered at the airport for the flight to Philadelphia, Abdul-Jabbar stayed home. Not to worry, said Johnson, who boarded the plane and planted himself into Abdul-Jabbar’s customary front-row seat. He winked to coach Paul Westhead and then playfully announced to his teammates: “Never fear, E.J. is here!”

Not merely a night that would stand as one of the great moments on the court in Johnson’s career, Game 6 was a display of his megawatt personality that captured the basketball and marketing world. It wasn’t enough that Magic had been unfazed by the attention all season as the No. 1 pick in the draft in a marquee franchise. He took it to the next level in The Finals.

Johnson’s confidence lifted his team’s spirits, and then he backed it up with one of the most remarkable games in NBA Playoff history. He began by jumping the opening tap in Abdul-Jabbar’s place, then went on to play every position on the floor at one time or another, from his customary point guard role to Abdul-Jabbar’s pivot spot.

Johnson scored 42 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and handed out 7 assists as the Lakers stunned the 76ers 123-107 to clinch the first of his five NBA championships. After the game, he looked into the TV cameras and sent a message to Abdul-Jabbar back in his Bel-Air home: “This one’s for you, Big Fella!”