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“When you try to reign in a 22-year-old elite athlete from pushing himself to be his best, you’re going to get conflict.” — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar weighs in on the Magic Johnson vs. Paul Westhead issue

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar walked down memory lane and shared his take on the issue between Magic Johnson and Paul Westhead back in the day.
Paul Westhead, Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Paul Westhead, and Magic Johnson

The Los Angeles Lakers wouldn't be known for what they are now if it weren't for the Showtime era spearheaded by Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (KAJ). The duo did win 5 titles together, and while they were one of the most exhilarating tandems in history, their time in Los Angeles wasn't always smooth. Johnson, in particular, had a well-documented shaky start with his coach Paul Westhead.

Magic wanted to be Magic.

Westhead took over the helm of the Lakers in the 1979-1980 season because the head coach Jack McKinney got into a severe accident, so his assistant (Westhead) had to take over. In Westhead's defense, the team flourished in his first year, resulting in a championship. However, the drama occurred when he was appointed the new head coach the following season.

It all started because the coach was steadfast in running a more methodological offense through a system that didn't revolve around Johnson — a far cry from McKinney's up-tempo offense that focused on maximizing Magic's point guard skills.

Johnson was thrown off by Westhead's vision, leading to an unhealthy relationship between the player and coach and in the locker room. Just recently, Kareem walked down memory lane and shared his take on the issue between Johnson and Westhead.

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"After that victorious Final, both Magic and Paul were at career highs and confident of their skills," KAJ said via his Substack.

"Here was the problem: The Lakers were used to outrunning teams and Magic was a key part of that strategy because he had an uncanny intuitiveness about when to drive and when to pass. He was the first part of our offense and I was the second part in the post. We were less choreographed and more like jazz, anticipating each other's moves, reading the body movement, reacting to the notes the other was playing."

"Paul had a more methodical, tactical approach. He added more set plays that stifled Magic's spontaneity and killed our fast-break advantage. Magic couldn't be Magic. When you try to reign in a 22-year-old elite athlete from pushing himself to be his best, you're going to get conflict," KAJ concluded.

The star player always gets the benefit of the doubt

Throughout the history of the NBA, team owners and governors will often pick the player over the coach when both don't get along. So, in this case, it wasn't a shocker that Dr. Jerry Buss chose Johnson over Westhead, who was replaced by Pat Riley. And luckily for Los Angeles, it was the right choice. Under Riley, the showtime Lakers made it to 7 Finals and won 4 more championships.

Ultimately, the Lakers were right in trusting Magic to be Magic. Because if it weren't for that, the world wouldn't have witnessed the greatness of Johnson — and the Showtime era in Los Angeles. 

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