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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Says Magic Johnson Tried To Give Him The 1980 Finals MVP Award

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Says Magic Johnson Tried To Give Him The 1980 Finals MVP Award

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Magic Johnson led an era of unparalleled success for the Los Angeles Lakers during the 1980s. The two of them took the Showtime Lakers to 8 NBA Finals in that decade, winning 5 titles, with the first one coming in 1980.

That triumph in 1980 was somewhat unexpected too, as the team had failed to make much of an impact in the years prior to it but all of that changed with Johnson's arrival. In his rookie season of 1979-80, the Lakers ended up winning 60 games for the first time since 1972-73 and Kareem won league MVP for a record 6th time. He would continue to dominate in the postseason by averaging over 30 points per game and he was on a roll in the Finals against the Sixers as well, but an ankle injury in Game 5 meant that he was out for Game 6. 

That led to one of Magic's finest hours in the NBA as he slotted in at center and finished with 42 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals, and a block as the Lakers won the game and the championship. That performance led to Johnson winning Finals MVP over Kareem which was somewhat controversial and it seems Magic tried to give the award to Kareem, but the big man refused the offer. Kareem recounted the interaction between the two of them on his substack recently.

via Substack:

"That MVP Award caused friction because some sportswriters and fans thought that I deserved it for my contributions during the full series, while others thought that Magic deserved it for his amazing display of versatility and leadership when the pressure was on. When I met the plane when the team flew home after winning the Finals, Magic tried to give me his MVP Award because he thought I had earned it. “Thanks, Earvin,” I said, “but you should keep it. We aren’t going to let something like this come between us.” And we didn’t."

A look at the numbers in that series does show that Kareem had a pretty good case for the award, as he averaged 33.4 points, 13.6 rebounds, and 4.6 blocks in that series, as opposed to Johnson's averages of 21.5 points, 11.2 rebounds, 8.7 assists, and 2.7 steals. Still, Magic came through when the pressure was at its highest and Kareem wasn't going to let this break them apart.

Lakers fans are undoubtedly grateful that it didn't lead to a split, as one can only imagine how different NBA history would be if the Lakers dynasty of the 1980s didn't exist.