When the Lakers and the Chicago Bulls first met in the NBA playoffs, there wasn't any Magic in the air.
Instead, in three series from 1971 to '73, there were a lot of elbows and fists in the air.
An aging Laker squad, led by future Hall of Famers Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry West, was twice forced to a seventh game by an expansion franchise that came into the NBA in 1966--the "Bad Boys" of their era, a team physical on defense and methodical and disciplined on offense.
At times, the heavy amount of body contact allowed by the officials led players to compare those Laker-Bull games to football and arm wrestling. Some of the comments about Jerry Sloan, the Bulls' 6-foot-6 swingman and now the Utah Jazz coach, might well have been said today in reference to the Detroit Pistons' Bill Laimbeer.
The Lakers entered the 1970-71 season still seeking their first title since moving from Minneapolis in 1960. But time was running out. West was 32, Chamberlain 34. Elgin Baylor, the city's first NBA superstar who had turned 36, played in two games before severing his Achilles' tendon.
General Manager Fred Schaus made two off-season moves that would pay great dividends: (1) Regaining guard Gail Goodrich, who had been lost to Phoenix in the 1968 expansion draft, and (2) Drafting forward Jim McMillian of Columbia. Additionally, in training camp, Schaus bought a player unwanted by the expansion Portland Trail Blazers, who would later figure greatly in the team's history in other ways--Pat Riley.
The Lakers won the Pacific Division with a 48-34 record. The division title guaranteed them the home-court advantage in the Western Conference semifinals. They would enter the playoffs without West, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in March.
Unlike other expansion teams, the Bulls did not languish at the bottom of the standings from the outset. Chicago reached the playoffs in its first season in the NBA, the only expansion team to perform that feat. However, that success would later prove costly, because they were unable to draft high enough to select a dominant center.
By the 1970-71 season, with forwards Chet Walker and Bob Love combining for an average of almost 48 points a game, and the Bulls allowing 105.4 points a game, second-lowest in the league, Chicago won 51 games, third-most in the league.
Coach Dick Motta was also able to call on current Atlanta Hawk Coach Bob Weiss, a balding reserve guard who would bedevil the Lakers in the playoffs. At center, the Bulls had Tom Boerwinkle, a slow 7-footer with a deft touch who was often used to set screens for Love and Walker.
The series opened with the Lakers trailing, 54-39, at halftime of Game 1, in front of a crowd that left almost 7,000 empty seats at the Forum.
Keith Erickson and McMillian brought the Lakers back. In the second half, McMillian was 10 for 14, Erickson eight for eight as the Lakers won, 100-99.
In Game 2, the Bulls led, 76-72, after three quarters, but with Goodrich scoring 14 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter, the Lakers rallied for a 105-95 victory.
There would be no Laker comebacks when the series moved to Chicago.
Motta shuffled his starting lineup, replacing guard Matt Guokas with Weiss, and Boerwinkle with Jim Fox.
Motta wouldn't be around long to witness the changes.
With 7:09 left in the first quarter, Motta was ejected because he uttered two words to which referee Mendy Rudolph objected. In an era when NBA teams did not have assistant coaches, guard Jim King, a former Laker, took over Motta's coaching duties.
Motta wasn't the only Bull to be ejected. Sloan was tossed late in the third quarter after throwing a sharp pass at the feet of referee Bob Rakel.
Erickson and Love engaged in a 30-second fight midway through the first quarter but stayed in the game.
"It was like football out there," Goodrich said after the Lakers' 106-98 loss. "Why, I came off a pick, and Bob Love hit me right in the jaw and nothing was called."
Said Chamberlain: "Yeah, it was rough. . . . It was ludicrous. But the inconsistency of the calls were rougher than the roughness of the game."
The Bulls missed 15 of their first 16 shots in Game 4 but outscored the Lakers, 34-19, in the fourth quarter for a 112-102 victory before 18,650, then Chicago Stadium's largest crowd for an NBA game.
Goodrich scored 33 points in the Lakers' 115-89 Game 5 victory at the Forum.
The Lakers led, 62-53, early in the third quarter of Game 6 but were only able to make two of 19 shots during one third-quarter stretch as the Bulls rallied for a 113-99 victory.
In Game 7, the Lakers' dominance at center made the difference, Chamberlain scoring 25 points and grabbing 19 rebounds in a 109-98 victory. Chamberlain also blocked two shots during a decisive 7-0 fourth-quarter spurt.