A couple of weeks ago, L.A. Lakers legend Magic Johnson, fresh from his great vacation in the Croatian Adriatic, praised LeBron James‘ performance in the first halftime of the 2020 Western Conference semifinals game three vs. the Rockets as one of the greatest ever. LBJ had 36 points, 7 boards, and 6 assists.
Honestly, Magic himself had such performances on numerous occasions, even in the preseason. LeBron James was three years old when one of the greatest NBA preseason games ever took place. Magic and his Showtime Lakers took on the rejuvenated New York Knicks in the Mecca of Basketball, Madison Square Garden, before the 1988-89 NBA regular season.
Back then, the word on the street was that the Lakers Mr.Everything had spent the whole summer of 1988 working on his sky-hook. Magic’s longtime paw, legendary center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was about to play the last of his incredible twenty seasons in the league. Magic decided to pay him due respect by producing points with Kareem’s patented shot during their final season together.
“I want to tell you, folks, Magic has never been more electrifying in the preseason than he is this year.”Chick Hearn
The new-look New York Knicks were one of those rejuvenated teams of the future. The aggressive whole court style of play was installed by the new head coach Rick Pitino, and was perfect for teams All-Star players, tireless center Pat Ewing and point guard Mark Jackson, the 1988 NBA Rookie of the Year.
With the reigning NBA champions in town on October 25, 1988, from the first minute of the preseason game on the MSG hallowed ground, it became clear that this one is not just a friendly game. Not only it wasn’t like any other regular-season game, but this one looked like a playoff game! Both teams executed their plays to perfection, and each of the shots going up was challenged!
Magic put on the ultimate showcase of his playmaking abilities, with both teams trying hard to win this one. He launched no-look passes from all over the place to his cutting teammates Byron Scott, James Worthy, A.C. Green, and Mychal Thompson. Playing literally like a ‘whirling dervish,’ he also posted-up smaller Mark Jackson and his back-up rookie Rod Strickland and scored several beautiful sky-hook shots over them. With both teams transitioning from ‘O’ to ‘D’ in a hip, the Knicks’ floor general’ Mark Jackson was making a plethora of sensational passes of his own. He hit his paw Pat Ewing with a couple of no-look passes for powerful dunks, and throw a spectacular between the legs assist to a cutting Johnny Newman.
The Lakers led along the way, but the first team ever to launch a thousand three-pointers, the 1988-89 Knicks, used triples to make a 12-0 run and close the gap to 83-71. Even though the Lakers led by 92-85 at the end of the third, the Knicks combination of aggressive defense and streaky hot shooting began to bear fruit.
“The Lakers, as brilliant as they were for two and a half quarters, have been just the opposite for the last quarter and a half.”Chick Hearn
With players all over the floor diving for loose balls under the watch full eye of legendary referee Dick Bavetta, and the fired-up crowd on its feet, the Knicks tied at the ball game at 96 apiece on a Rod Strickland basket. Spearheaded by the heady play of guards Gerald Wilkins and Trent Tucker, the Knicks then took over the lead. The Lakers managed to pull closer in a clutch on miraculous three-pointers made by Byron Scott and A.C. Green. It was Ewing who finally sealed the hard-fought preseason win for the Knicks by making a transition deuce and an additional foul-shot, completing a three-point play.
On a great delight of their faithful home crowd of about 15,000 fans, the Knicks won one of the greatest NBA preseason games ever by the final score of 119-125. After scoring 24 points in each of his previous preseason games, Magic had 31+ points and 15+ assists in this one.
On their way to the 1989 NBA finals with Detroit Pistons, L.A. Lakers split the regular-season series vs. the Knicks at one game apiece, with both teams winning their away game. Magic, who won the 1989 NBA MVP award, was phenomenal over that series posting the incredible averages of 25.5 points, 11.5 boards, and 12.0 assists per game.