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Magic Johnson and Larry Bird took the NBA by storm when they both entered the league during the 1979-80 season. Bird won Rookie of the Year with the Boston Celtics. Johnson and his Los Angeles Lakers captured the NBA championship.

While Johnson had a fantastic first season, he stepped things up in the postseason. Magic lived up to his nickname when it counted most when he earned MVP of the 1980 NBA Finals. Johnson sealed that award with one of the most memorable performances in postseason history.

Magic Johnson saved his best for last as a rookie with the Lakers

Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers walks on the court circa the 1980s during a game against the Philadelphia Sixers. | Focus on Sport via Getty Images.

Johnson had himself one heck of a rookie season. The 6-foot-9 point guard from Michigan State averaged 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.3 assists. Of course, the battle for the NBA’s top rookie came down to Magic and Bird. The Celtics forward put up 21.3 points and 10.4 rebounds to come away with the honor.

To this day, Johnson jokes how he’s still bothered Bird won that award.

“It was 60-something (votes) to like two,” Johnson told Shannon Sharpe on the Club Shay Shay podcast in October. “I hate to say that on TV. I was pissed. Two votes? Became the first rookie in NBA history to be named Finals MVP. I was only the third dude ever in NBA history to go from the college championship to the NBA Finals championship. I got two votes, and they were two LA dudes.

“I’m like he’s not that much better than me. Not 63 to 2, but I took it.”

While Bird achieved Rookie of the Year, Johnson got the better honor by winning the MVP of the 1980 NBA Finals after the Lakers beat the Philadelphia 76ers in six games. Johnson secured that award with his impressive Game 6 performance.

Johnson’s Game 6 heroics sealed his Finals MVP award in ’80

The Lakers finished the 1979-80 season with the best record in the Western Conference at 60-22, one game behind Boston for the best in the NBA. While the Celtics were ousted by the Philadelphia 76ers in the conference semifinals, the Lakers made their way to the championship round.

Although the Lakers beat the Sixers in six games, it wasn’t easy. With the series even after four games, the Lakers pulled out a 108-103 win at home in Game 5, but the victory was costly. Guard Norm Nixon injured his wrist and center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar badly sprained his ankle. Abdul-Jabbar didn’t even make the trip to Philly for Game 6. Nixon played with one hand.

With Abdul-Jabbar out, Johnson played center for the first time since high school. He didn’t even know what he was supposed to do inside the circle for the game’s opening tap.

“I didn’t know whether to stand with my right foot forward or my left,” Johnson said, per Sports Illustrated. “Didn’t know when I should jump or where I should tap it if I got to it.”

Although he replaced Abdul-Jabbar and jumped center, Johnson played everywhere. He also did everything. Magic finished the game with 42 points, 15 rebounds, and seven assists in LA’s series-clinching, 123-107 win. He did it all and proved he could he could shine while playing any position on the court.

“What position did I play?” Johnson asked after the game. “Well, I played center, a little forward, some guard. I tried to think up a name for it, but the best I came up with was C-F-G Rover.”


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