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The Day in Sports | COUNTDOWN TO 2000 / A day-by-day
recap of some of the most important sports moments
of the 20th Century: MAY 16, 1980

Against Philadelphia, He Stepped Front and Center

May 16, 1999|EARL GUSTKEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In 1977, in Lansing, Mich., Earvin Johnson led the Everett High basketball team to the state championship.

Two years later, he led Michigan State to an NCAA championship.

And one season after that, at 20, he led the Lakers to an NBA championship. He completed that triple sweep 19 years ago tonight.

For all his later NBA triumphs, that first championship in his rookie season remains perhaps his most stunning show, a victory that revealed the heart and character of a player called "Magic."

Backdrop: The Lakers were to play the 76ers at Philadelphia in Game 6 of the NBA finals, needing one win for the championship. Problem was, center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was at home because of a sprained ankle.

Coach Paul Westhead picked Johnson, a guard, to play center. No way, most felt. But when asked about it, Johnson said, with a straight face: "I played some center in high school. No problem."

When the teams walked to the opening tip before 18,276 in the Spectrum, Johnson was the only player with a smile on his face.

He scored 42 points, grabbed 15 rebounds, had seven assists and was 14 of 14 from the free-throw line.

Still, the 76ers closed to within two points with five minutes left.

No problem: Magic time.

Three seasons from his last high school game, he scored 11 points down the stretch and the Lakers outscored Philadelphia, 20-6, to win easily, 123-107.

Also on this date: In 1958, 34,656 at the Coliseum Relays saw Australian Herb Elliott, 20, run the second-fastest mile in history, 3:57.8. . . . In 1954, Ted Williams, 35, back in the Boston lineup after a pin was inserted in his shoulder, went eight for nine in a doubleheader with two home runs. . . . In 1965, Jim Palmer, 19, scored the first of his 268 major league victories, beating the Yankees at Baltimore, 7-5.

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