Lakers Countdown: At #7…

J.M. Poulard —  August 12, 2012

When the Decision happened, LeBron James became the symbol of the spoiled athlete that failed to understand just what was happening around him in “real life”. The end result was that he instantly became a villain and represented everything that was wrong about professional sports in the minds of many. Consequently he was booed in every road arena even though he never truly understood why.

How history treats him remains to be seen, but James certainly was not the first athlete to make a questionable decision in terms of how he conducted himself as a professional.

For instance, Kobe Bryant requested to be traded in 2007 but that has since been swept under the rug after winning back-to-back titles afterwards.

Winning tends to make people forget things.

But sometimes, odd actions can make people forget winners.

The best illustration of this clock in at #7 in our Los Angeles Lakers countdown of greatest title teams…

The 1981-82 Lakers

After winning the NBA championship in Magic Johnson’s rookie season in 1980, many thought the Lakers had a chance to get back to the mountaintop in the ensuing season.

Mind you, Johnson was injured early in the season and thus only appeared in 37 games. Despite the prolonged absence of one of their best playmakers and rebounders, the purple and gold managed to win 54 games on the strength of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Jamaal Wilkes’ scoring. Also, Norm Nixon’s ability to run the offense helped a talented Lakers squad play at a high level.

The team seemed as though they might make some noise in the postseason but then they fell apart in the first round of the playoffs just as the team was getting used to playing with Magic Johnson.

With the team having faced an early season exit, they made some minor tweaks and acquired Mitch Kupchak and Kurt Rambis to help shore up the rebounding in the offseason; and later acquired former three-time scoring champ Bob McAdoo early in the ensuing 1981-82 regular season.

The franchise made news by signing Magic Johnson to a 25-year $25 million contract that led many to wonder if owner Jerry Buss liked Magic Johnson just a little too much.

The Lakers started out the season by once again being a very talented squad but some around the team felt as though head coach Paul Westhead was holding the team back with his half court offense. They had stopped being Showtime and instead became a team that brought the ball up the court and executed instead of consistently outrunning their opponents.

Magic went on to voice his complaints and requested to be traded, feeling as though his talents weren’t being maximized under Westhead. And just like that, Westhead was fired despite a 7-4 record at the time.

Had Kanye West been the artist back then that he is today, everyone would have said that the lyrics from his hit song Power were tailor made for Magic:

“No one man should have all that power.”

The former Michigan State Spartan was booed in every opposing arena and was viewed as an athlete with a sense of entitlement and a man possessing far too much power with his franchise. In an odd way, this situation somewhat overshadowed just how deep and talented the team was as well as what it accomplished.

The 1981-82 Los Angeles Lakers had four Hall of Fame players (Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson, McAdoo and Wilkes) as well as a stud point guard in Norm Nixon — yes, he was listed as the team’s point guard and Magic was listed as a guard/forward — that helped make plays.

The team may have had one of the best guard pairings ever when we look at their production during the 1981-82 regular season:

  • Norm Nixon: 17.6 points per game, 8 assists per game and 1.6 steals per game on 49.3 percent field goal shooting.
  • Magic Johnson: 18.6 points per game, 9.5 assists per game, 9.6 rebounds per game and 2.7 steals per game on 53.7 percent field goal shooting.

As good as the guards were, things became infinitely more difficult for opponents when the frontcourt became involved when arguably the best center in NBA history had two exquisite guards feeding him the ball when the team played in the half court.

And just in case that wasn’t problematic enough, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was surrounded by great scorers in Bob McAdoo (coming off the bench) and Jamaal Wilkes.

With Pat Riley at the helm, the Lakers finished the season with a 57-25 record, tops in the Western Conference. They sported the second best offensive efficiency in the league and the 10th best defensive efficiency.

The Western Conference playoffs were a mere footnote for the Lakers who obliterated the Phoenix Suns (46-36) in the first round by an average scoring margin of 12.7 points in a four-game sweep.

The following series against the San Antonio Spurs (48-34) proved to be quite similar to the outcome against the Suns, as the Lakers swept them and won every game against the Spurs by an average of 8.7 points.

The Los Angeles Lakers entered the NBA Finals — at the time, a team only needed to win two rounds to advance to the finals — as underdogs to the Philadelphia 76ers (58-24) given that they did not have home court advantage.

And yet, as if to come full circle, Magic Johnson led the purple and gold to another title against the same 76ers team that had lost against them two years prior in the title round.

Los Angeles won in six games and kept Julius Erving’s title drought alive for one last season.

The ’82 Lakers boasted an impressive 12-2 playoff record and sported an average scoring margin of plus-6.1 during the postseason. In addition, when we consider the roster top to bottom, there is no doubt that this is one of the greatest teams to ever hit the hardwood.

Why seventh then?

For a team as loaded as the ’82 Lakers, one can only wonder why they only won 57 games especially in a rather weak Western Conference. In addition, they dismantled their conference opponents during the playoffs but both teams fail to even win 50 games during the regular season, thus making the accomplishment a little less impressive.

In addition, this squad may have only had two losses during their postseason run, but they were by 16 and 33 points; meaning they were blown out of the building. Perhaps it’s nitpicking, but as we climb along the ladder of best Los Angeles Lakers teams in franchise history, these small details will add up and end up making the difference.

J.M. Poulard