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The Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers were heated rivals in the 1980s. The players never liked each other then and some still aren’t the best of friends.

The teams met in the NBA Finals in 1984 for the first of three times in the decade. The series went seven games despite the Lakers dominating the early part of the action. Former Lakers forward James Worthy said he handed the Finals MVP trophy to Maxwell that year. While his thought process is correct, he’s dead wrong with that comment.

James Worthy and Cedric Maxwell were part of a heated 1984 NBA Finals

James Worthy of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots over Cedric Maxwell of the Boston Celtics during an NBA game circa 1984 at the Boston Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images.

The Celtics and Lakers dominated the 1980s from the beginning. With rookie point guard Magic Johnson leading the way, the Lakers won the 1980 NBA Finals before Larry Bird and the Celtics claimed the 1981 championship. LA won it again in 1982, but the two teams didn’t square off against each other until 1984.

The battle fo the 1984 championship was heated. The Lakers dominated the early part of the series by stealing Game 1 in Boston. They nearly took two straight, but Gerald Henderson’s late steal in Game 2 helped force overtime, where the Celtics outlasted the Lakers.

After getting blown out in Game 3 and getting called out by Bird for being soft, the Celtics resorted to physical play in Game 4. That physical play bordered on dirty play. It was highlighted when Kevin McHale clotheslined Kurt Rambis in the third quarter with the Lakers ahead 76-70. The play fired up the Celtics, who went on to win another overtime game to tie the series.

In Game 6, Worthy brought down Maxwell in apparent retaliation for McHale’s hard foul on Rambis. With Maxwell going in for a layup, Worthy took down Maxwell from behind. It fired up the veteran Boston forward.

“In Game 6 out in LA, I’m going in for a layup, and James Worthy does a cardinal sin that you never do,” Maxwell said on a video posted by NBA History & Legends on CLNS. “I remember walking out, thinking, ‘I’m gonna get his ass. I’m gonna get him.”

In Game 7, Maxwell told his teammates to get on his back. He delivered by leading the Celtics with 24 points. He also racked up eight rebounds and eight assists in Boston’s series-clinching 111-102 win. Maxwell was named Finals MVP.

“It was in the locker room and Larry was in there and ML (Carr), and everybody was sitting there talking and I said, ‘Don’t you worry. Y’all ain’t got to worry. Y’all get on my back,” Maxwell recalled. “I’m gonna win this damn championship for you.’”

Worthy insisted he handed Maxwell that Finals MVP trophy, but Bird actually won it

Worthy was on the right track. He just had his years mixed up. Worthy lofted that pass Henderson intercepted in Game 2 that allowed the Celtics to pull out the win. Had the Lakers hung on, there’s a chance they go on to sweep the Celtics.

“I want Cedric to hear this because I handed him the Most Valuable Player award,” Worthy said on the Showtime With Coop podcast with host Michael Cooper, Worthy’s former teammate. “In Game 2, I handed him the Most Valuable Player, otherwise it would have gone to a Laker. When I made that pass that Gerald Henderson stole, we gave them that game.

“If we go back 2-0, I don’t think the chances are he wins MVP. He never thanked me for that.”

It’s interesting that Worthy takes credit for the Game 2 loss. He also makes a great point that if the Lakers win that game and head to LA up 2-0, the Celtics likely don’t win the series.

Where he’s wrong is that Maxwell wasn’t named MVP of the series. Bird came away with that honor. Maxwell claimed the Finals MVP in 1981 after Boston beat the Houston Rockets.


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