The NBA's popularity took off during the 1980s after viewership continued to dip to all-time lows by the late 1970s.
The main reason for the resurgence was because of the battles between the Magic Johnson-led “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers and the Larry Bird-led Boston Celtics.
The Lakers won an incredible five championships during the 80s, while the Celtics snagged three of their own while producing arguably the greatest team ever in 1986.
Yet, Magic and Bird weren't the only reasons why the NBA saw success in the 80s. The rise of a young kid from North Carolina named Michael Jordan helped out a lot.
There is one other reason for the rise in popularity, and that came from one team that played the game hard and tough. I'm talking about the “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons.
The Pistons' “rough 'em up” style of play excited fans, as they wanted to see which players would get into a fight during a Pistons game.
The “Bad Boys” were more than just that, they were champions as well. In fact, the Pistons were one of the “other” teams to win a title in the 80s. They won in 1989 in a sweep against Magic's “ShowTime” Lakers.
The year prior to winning the title, the Pistons defeated Bird's Celtics to reach their first NBA Finals, and they would play against the Lakers, but in this series, the Lakers would win, thanks to what some people call a “phantom skyhook foul”.
“Phantom Skyhook Foul” Saves Lakers In Game 6
The Pistons were battling the Lakers hard in the 1988 NBA Finals. After five games, the Pistons took a 3-2 series lead and were looking to capture their first NBA title.
Then, the madness of Game 6 happened. The game was played in Los Angeles, and their fans did not want to see the Lakers lose to a bunch of “Bad Boys”.
A moment in the third quarter gave Lakers fans a chance to smile, while Pistons fans were holding their breath.
Pistons' star guard, Isiah Thomas, scored 14 points in the third quarter, helping his team come back in the game, yet an ankle injury forced him to leave.
The Lakers jumped all over the Pistons in Thomas' absence, taking an eight-point lead.
Thomas returned to the game, still in the third, to score 11 more points, for 25 total points in the quarter.
Thomas' 25 third-quarter points is an NBA Finals record for most points in the quarter, and his play led the Pistons back to take a two-point lead into the fourth quarter.
The two teams continued to battle down to the last stretch of the game. The Pistons held a 102–101 lead with 14 seconds remaining when Bill Laimbeer fouled the Lakers, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, on a skyhook shot attempt.
Laimbeer appeared to be angry over the call. So was the rest of the Pistons. As Jabbar went to the line, the replay played on televisions around the country.
The replay showed the play, and it appeared that Laimbeer did not foul Jabbar, yet Jabbar would take and make free throws.
After a timeout, the Pistons put the ball in Joe Dumars hands, but he missed the shot. The Pistons then fouled the Lakers' Byron Scott, and he missed both free throws.
The Pistons had one last chance, but time ran out before they could get a shot off. The Lakers won the game to force a Game 7, and they'd win Game 7 to win their fifth title of the decade.
Lakers Coach, Pat Riley, Admits “Phantom Skyhook” Helped His Team Win
The NBA has had its fair share of conspiracies throughout its history, and Game 6 of the 1988 NBA Finals is no different.
Many fans, especially Pistons fans, believe the foul on Jabbar was called to force the series to a Game 7, to make the league more money.
Lakers head coach, Pat Riley, has never admitted to knowing anything about a conspiracy, but he did admit his Lakers benefited from the “phantom skyhook foul”.
“In 1988, when we got Detroit and Kareem hit that phantom skyhook foul, he had to make the two free throws,” Riley said. “He didn't choke. He did not choke on the free throws. He had to make them. He made them. And that led us to a seventh game and a win. But the next year, Detroit came back and swept us.”
The NBA will never admit to deliberately calling the foul on Bill Laimbeer, leaving the famous “phantom skyhook foul” to live in infamy.
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