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Maybe it was a copycat move, but whatever you want to call it, it worked for the Los Angeles Lakers.

The Lakers, embarrassed by not reaching the NBA Finals in 1986, had to make a move to make their way back into the championship round. During the middle of the 1986-87 season, the Lakers took a page out of the Boston Celtics book. Celtics star Larry Bird said LA’s midseason move put the Lakers over the hump and helped them win their fourth championship of the decade.

The Lakers acquired Mychal Thompson during the 1986-87 season

The Lakers reached the NBA Finals four straight times between 1982 and 1985, but their run ended in 1986. The Houston Rockets shocked the Lakers in the Western Conference Finals and made their way into the 1986 NBA Finals. They lost to the Celtics in six games.

On Feb. 13, 1987, the San Antonio Spurs traded 6-foot-10 forward/center Mychal Thompson to the Lakers. In exchange, the Spurs received  Petur Gudmundsson, Frank Brickowski, a first-round pick (Greg Anderson), a second-round pick in 1990 (Sean Higgins), and cash. It was a whole lot of nothing for Thompson, who made quite an impact coming off the bench for the Lakers.

The move didn’t sit well with Larry Bird.

“If San Antonio needed money, we would’ve sent them money,” said Bird, according to Sports Illustrated. “But to go and help the Lakers like that is just terrible.”

Thompson played the final 33 regular-season games and made quite an impact in the playoffs. He averaged 10.1 points and 4.1 rebounds in those 33 games.

The Lakers took a page from the Celtics, and Larry Bird said it put them over the top


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After the Lakers defeated the Celtics in the 1985 NBA Finals, the Celtics knew they needed some help in the middle to try and contain LA center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Boston went out and acquired veteran center Bill Walton from the Los Angeles Clippers to bolster the bench. The oft-injured Walton played 80 games that season, spelling Robert Parish and Kevin McHale. He was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year.

The Celtics never faced Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers in the Finals that season after the Rockets posted the upset in the conference finals. Like the Celtics, the Lakers knew they had to make a move to better themselves the next year. The Lakers figured they’d be on a crash course to meet the Celtics in the 1987 NBA Finals. With Walton having had surgery in December 1986 and his return unknown, the Lakers pulled the trigger on the Thompson deal at the trade deadline.

Bird later said that was a move that pushed the Lakers over the top.

“When we played them in ’87, they were a better team than the year before — if only because they got Mychal Thompson,” Bird said in his book Drive: The Story of My Life. “He put them over the hump the way Bill Walton had put us over the hump the year before.

“Mychal also had one very big added extra value. He plays Kevin McHale as well as anyone. They had two key matchups where they weren’t losing anything. They had Michael Cooper to play me, and they had Mychal Thompson to play Kevin.”

The Lakers defeated the Celtics in six games, winning their fourth championship of the decade. They added their fifth the following season.