After Losing to the Boston Celtics in the 1984 NBA Finals, Magic Johnson Was Referred to as the ‘Tarnished Superstar’
The 1984 NBA Finals might have been the peak of the good old days of ’80s basketball. It was the first time in five years that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird faced each other in a title series since their epic NCAA championship battle in 1979. The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers finally squared off against each other for the first of three Finals matchups in the decade.
The first time is usually the most memorable, and this case is no different. The series went seven games and was marred by improbable wins, heated battles, and some uncalled-for bashing of Johnson.
Magic Johnson and the Lakers let the 1984 NBA Finals slip away
Although the series went the distance, the Lakers outplayed the Celtics in the series and still lost. After stealing Game 1 in Boston, the Lakers had a shot to make it two straight, leading by two and holding possession of the ball with 18 seconds left in Game 2. Celtics guard Gerald Henderson intercepted a James Worthy pass and turned it into a game-tying layup with 13 seconds remaining.
With Johnson running the show, the Lakers failed to get off a shot in regulation. Boston escaped with a 124-121 overtime victory.
After the Lakers blew out the Celtics at home in Game 3, they held a 76-70 lead in Game 4 before Boston’s Kevin McHale clotheslined Kurt Rambis, who was heading in for a layup. From that point, momentum shifted, and the Celtics rallied for another overtime win, tying the series at two games apiece.
After both teams held serve on their home courts, the Celtics, led by Cedric Maxwell’s 24 points, closed the series with a 111-102 victory.
There was plenty of blame to go around for everyone on the Lakers. Somehow, Magic got the worst of it.
Johnson took a lot of the heat and took the series loss hard
If Worthy’s pass isn’t intercepted by Henderson in Game 2, the Lakers likely would have held a 3-0 lead heading into Game 4. While Worthy was tough on himself and took some criticism, it was Johnson who absorbed most of the heat.
According to Sports Illustrated, a columnist for The Los Angeles Herald-Examiner referred to Johnson as “the tarnished superstar” after the series. Even Johnson was hard on himself, deflecting the blame from Worthy’s pass in Game 2 to his own errant pass at the end of regulation in Game 4 and his two missed free throws in overtime.
“We made five mistakes that cost us the series,” Johnson said, “and I contributed to three of them. I thought the free throws more than the pass were mistakes. Those were things I — not the team — should have taken care of.”
Lakers coach Pat Riley couldn’t believe sports writers also called Johnson a “choker,” and said he had to prove himself all over again in 1985.
“People say he has to come back this year and prove himself all over again, which is a joke,” said Riley. “When you play in the ultimate game, there’s winning, and there’s misery. For us, it was misery.”
While the loss stuck with Johnson and the Lakers throughout the summer, they bounced back in ’85, getting revenge against the Celtics and winning the championship in Game 6 on Boston’s home court.