Last week, we revisited Larry Bird’s triumph over Magic Johnson in the 1984 NBA Finals. In the interest of parity, this week we will reminisce on one of Magic’s greatest moments, as he released the ‘baby hook shot’ to win Game 4 of the 1987 Finals for the Los Angeles Lakers over the Boston Celtics.
One of the Los Angeles Lakers’ most successful eras, with Earvin “Magic” Johnson as the charismatic face of the organisation and an absolute marvel on the court, can be summarised in one word: “showtime”.
Showtime was the Lakers’ ethos, their mentality, a persona they could effect in the way a superhero pulls on a cape and cowl. They played fast basketball, Magic spraying the assists and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sinking the shots. Jack McKinney, coach for only 13 games of the 1979-80 season defined the offensive style which was carried forward by Paul Westhead, and then Pat Riley. They would grab rebounds and race down the court for the quick transition, mainly through Magic, confusing defences to get easy points through lay-ups, dunks and open shots. It was dazzling.
The basketball itself was only one half of the showtime philosophy. Lakers’ owner, Jerry Buss, wanted nothing more than the entire experience to be entertaining. He hired dancers and live music for games, and invited Hollywood stars to come watch. Soon enough, the Lakers became synonymous with the world’s biggest celebrities. The rich and famous of Tinseltown had found their favourite hobby.
It was flashy, audacious, maybe even a little ostentatious; but it was perfect for Magic Johnson, because the way he played was showtime’s ultimate manifestation on the court.
Larry Bird and the Celtics were everything the Lakers were not: tough, rough, grafters and downright mean. Magic and Larry’s rivalry spanned the decade, trading MVPs and NBA Championships. In 1984, they met in the Finals, and Bird left with the Larry O’ Brien Championship Trophy.
The Lakers beat them in the Finals the very next year, but the limelight still very much belonged to Abdul Jabbar, who won the Finals MVP. It wasn’t until 1987 that Magic and Larry met in the Finals again, and Magic was the one undisputedly running the show this time around.
Going into Game 4 of the series, the Lakers had won the opening two games in Los Angeles, before the Celtics pulled one back in Boston. Game 4 was to be Boston’s chance to tie the series at 2 – 2, and with Game 5 due to be played in Boston following the introduction of a new Finals format, the 2-3-2 system, Larry Bird’s men were in a good position to get control of the series. Larry Bird himself was something approaching confident, speaking to reporters he said:
“This (Game 3) was the most important game of the series for us. If we lost, it might’ve been tough to get up for Game 4. Now it’s going to be easy.”
Magic had other ideas.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, one of the best players of all time, was renowned for his immaculate and now infamous ‘sky-hook’ shot. When he executed it, he was unstoppable. Magic, playing his entire NBA career with Jabbar to this point, must have learned a thing or two from the veteran.
With 7 seconds left, and the Lakers down by a single point, the ball was inbounded to Magic, who had caused a switch with pick. The bigger and slower Kevin McHale was forced out of his comfort zone to follow Magic, who dribbled at McHale, hesitated, and drove to release the ‘baby sky-hook’ to win Game 4 and give the Lakers a 3 -1 advantage in the series. They won the Finals in Game 6, with Magic picking up the MVP.
Joseph Carroll, Pundit Arena.