Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Says His Shorthanded Lakers ‘Mystified’ the 76ers in the 1980 NBA Finals

The Los Angeles Lakers entered the 1980 NBA Finals as the favorite, but as the series wore on, that may have changed. The Lakers suffered some key injuries late in the series, including one to center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar that kept him out of Game 6.

Despite being shorthanded, the Lakers closed out the series in six games, clinching the series in Philadelphia. Abdul-Jabbar and teammate Norm Nixon recently reflected on that series, with the Hall of Fame center saying the 76ers were mystified and had no idea how to guard the Lakers with their star on the bench.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Lakers reached the NBA Finals all but two years in the 1980s

Jamaal Wilkes of the Los Angeles Lakers looks to put a move on Steve Mix of the Philadelphia 76ers during an NBA basketball game circa 1980 at The Spectrum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. | Focus on Sport/Getty Images.

The Lakers had two hiccups in the 1980s, both coming against the Houston Rockets. In 1981, one year after defeating the Sixers in the 1980 Finals, the Lakers failed to get out of the first round of the playoffs. In 1986, the Lakers again fell to the Rockets, this time in the conference finals when Ralph Sampson hit a buzzer-beater to send the Lakers home.

Other than that, the Lakers reached the championship round every year that decade, winning five titles. During a conversation with Nixon on Abdul-Jabbar’s first podcast, the two spoke about coming off that championship in ’80 and then falling flat in the first round to the Rockets the following season.

“The next year, we get upset,” Nixon said on Skyhook: The Podcast. “That hurt.”

Abdul-Jabbar interrupted.

“That hurt, but sometimes there’s nothing you can do,” he said. “To come up short, it gave me an incentive to do it better the next time.”

That he did. Abdul-Jabbar led the Lakers to four straight NBA Finals appearances, winning again in 1982 and 1985. They also won consecutive titles in 1987 and 1988.

Abdul-Jabbar said the 76ers were ‘mystified’ during the 1980 Finals

The Lakers held homecourt advantage in the 1980 NBA Finals, but they were bitten by the injury bug late in the series. Both Abdul-Jabbar and Nixon were hurt in Game 5, with Abdul-Jabbar badly spraining his ankle and Nixon injuring his wrist.

Abdul-Jabbar missed Game 6 and Nixon “played with one hand,” wearing a cast. The Sixers were down 3-2 in the series but were a favorite in Game 6, playing at home against the shorthanded Lakers.

Led by Magic Johnson, the Lakers dominated throughout the contest, winning 123-107. Johnson had 42 points, 15 rebounds, and seven assists as the Lakers sealed the deal.

“It was great, man, winning that championship and beating them on that court, too,” Nixon said.

“When you don’t expect to win, no one expects you to win, and you go out there, and the other team is mystified as to how to play you,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “I could tell they didn’t know who was going to guard who.”

“They had Darryl Dawkins out there. He couldn’t figure anything out defensively.”

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the 1980 NBA Finals

“They couldn’t match up with us,” Nixon said. “One thing about the team was, once you sat down, we even played faster because Jim Brewer would come in, and we just ran. It’s something we couldn’t do for 48 minutes and 82 games, but for a six- or seven-minute stretch, we could put it down with some speed.”

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