When they made the announcement that Laker center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had broken Jerry West's all-time National Basketball Assn. playoff scoring record early in the third quarter of Sunday's third game of the championship series, Magic Johnson was at the free-throw line and trying hard to concentrate.
Before the sellout crowd of 17,505 at the Forum had finished acknowledging Abdul-Jabbar's achievement with a long and thunderous standing ovation, Johnson already had made both free throws. He then casually headed to the other end of the court to personally congratulate his teammate and friend.
That's the way the championship series has gone for the Lakers' two leaders. Abdul-Jabbar, playing with an intensity and desire not seen for some time, has received much of the attention and credit for the Lakers' two wins over the Boston Celtics. Johnson, meanwhile, has gone somewhat unnoticed even though he has played near the top of his game.
Both contributed greatly to the Lakers' 136-111 thrashing of the Celtics Sunday. Abdul-Jabbar scored 26 points and had 14 rebounds to give him 4,464 career playoff points, knocking West back to second place with 4,457. Johnson came within one rebound of a triple double with 17 points, 16 assists and 9 rebounds.
Because he broke West's record and played at the same high emotional level as Game 2 Thursday at Boston, Abdul-Jabbar once again was thrust into the spotlight while Johnson humbly stayed in the background.
"I don't care if my play is overlooked," Johnson said. "I don't get into that recognition or anything. I know, personally, how I played. That's all that's important. I just appreciate what he (Abdul-Jabbar) is doing now. It's kind of hard to appreciate the record right now.
"He's our leader, what can I say? He has sucked it up. At 38, you don't expect him to do it. I've never seen him like this before."
Fittingly, the shot that gave Abdul-Jabbar the record was a sky hook, something that always has been a part of his game. But Abdul-Jabbar also did several things in Game 3 that even long-time Laker observers have rarely seen.
There was all 7-2 of Abdul-Jabbar, diving on the floor for a loose ball or taking the wing on a fast break or being the \o7 recipient\f7 of a length of the court pass. But the most shocking out-of-character play Abdul-Jabbar made came less than five minutes into the game when he dribbled almost the length of the floor and finished by swishing a sky hook.
A minute later, Abdul-Jabbar scurried out from underneath the basket to knock a pass out of bounds.
At that point, Forum fans probably wondered if someone had spiked Kareem's Geritol. Actually, it was the same inspired performance Abdul-Jabbar gave last in Game 2. He had 30 points and 17 rebounds in that Laker win and, Sunday, he made 10 of 13 shots and finished with 26 points in what amounted to a sequel.
"After my very, very poor performance in the first game, I wanted to come back and play well in these two games," Abdul-Jabbar said. "I guess I've picked up a few years I didn't know I had."
When Abdul-Jabbar was asked if his floor-length dash surprised a few people, he smiled and said: "I do that in my dreams all the time."
It isn't known whether Abdul-Jabbar had ever dreamed about becoming the NBA's all-time playoff scoring leader, but it is now a reality. It took Abdul-Jabbar 163 playoff games to do it, which averages out to 27.3 points a game.
"It's nice but not very important to me now," Abdul-Jabbar said. "Maybe after I retire, I can look back on it. I wish I had a little more space and time to appreciate it, but there are other things going on."
Obviously, Abdul-Jabbar is referring to the Lakers' quest to unseat Boston and win the NBA title. Because this is Abdul-Jabbar's next to last season, there seems a certain urgency for him to win another championship.
"I don't think I'm trying to look at the whole length of my career in this series," Abdul-Jabbar said. "I'm just looking at it through the perspective of this season. There are things we want to accomplish this season. If things fall into place, fine."
Usually with the Lakers, it is Magic Johnson, the club's floor leader, who puts the pieces together. Johnson was superb Sunday, feeding the ball to James Worthy (29 points) or McAdoo (19), outrebounding all but one Celtic, scoring when it was needed and even making a three-pointer in the second quarter.
But did anyone notice? A few people, including Laker Coach Pat Riley.
"He's the consummate team player," Riley said. "Kareem's 26 (points) and Worthy's 29 are because of Magic. You've got to judge Magic differently than just in the statistics."
For instance, after Celtic guard Danny Ainge scored 19 points in Game 1, Riley decided to match Johnson on Ainge and move Byron Scott to Dennis Johnson. Ainge hasn't been a factor in the last two games.
Johnson said he is satisfied with his play the last two games. But he said he was somewhat more intense Sunday. "It was just a day for me to do a little more," Johnson said.
People always expect more from Johnson and, when he doesn't deliver like some think he should, he takes much of the blame. It seems the only thing that will make people forget his mistakes in last season's championship series against the Celtics is to win it all.
"Magic played excellent today," Scott said. "But he's not going to get noticed until we lose a game. Everybody puts things on his shoulders."
Or, as Riley said Sunday: "That's just the way it goes. Magic is doing the same things he was doing in last year's series. When he made a few mistakes, he was put in the glare."