Magic Johnson winning the 1980 NBA Finals MVP over Kareem Abdul Jabbar might have been one of the biggest award robberies in NBA history.
The LA Lakers would face the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1980 NBA Finals. The Lakers were the top seed in the western conference and would have the home-court advantage going into the Finals.
The LA team had a great regular season with a 60-22 record. Lakers center Kareem Abdul Jabbar was crowned the regular season MVP. The team had even drafted Magic Johnson, who was the 1st pick in the 1979 NBA Draft.
The Lakers would defeat the 76ers in six games, with Magic Johnson being crowned Finals MVP. In what was his rookie year.
Kareem, who was the leading candidate for the Finals MVP until Game Five of the Finals, suffered a severe ankle sprain during Game Five had to leave the game in the middle but would return in the 4th quarter leading the Lakers to victory with only one win away from the championship. Kareem was listed out for Game Six.
Over the years, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding the 1980 Final MVP award. Though, there is no doubt Magic Johnson was great in the Finals. The statistics give Kareem a massive lead as far as facts are concerned.
Comparing statistics between Kareem Abdul Jabbar and Magic Johnson during the 1980 NBA Finals
There is no doubt that as far as offense goes both Kareem and Magic were phenomenal in their respective roles. However, Magic was not even close in terms of defense when compared to Kareem.
Despite Kareem not playing in Game Six, he led Magic in PPG, RPG, BPG, and FG efficiency.
Below is a breakdown of all the stats that prove perhaps why Kareem was more worthy of the award without taking anything away from Magic.
1980 NBA Finals stats
- Kareem: 33.4 PPG, 13.6 RPG, 3.2 APG, 0.6 SPG, 4.6 BPG, and 54.9% FG
- Magic: 21.5 PPG, 11.2 RPG, 8.7 APG, 2.7 SPG, 0.3 BPG, and 57.3% FG
- Kareem: 33 points, 14 rebounds, 5 assists, 6 blocks, 0 steals
- Magic: 16 points, 7 rebounds, 10 assists, 0 blocks, 3 steals
- Kareem: 38 points, 14 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 blocks, 2 steals
- Magic: 13 points, 8 rebounds, 11 assists, 0 blocks, 2 steals
- Kareem: 33 points, 14 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 blocks, 0 steals
- Magic: 16 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists, 0 blocks, 2 steals
- Kareem: 23 points, 11 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks, 1 steal
- Magic: 28 points, 9 rebounds, 9 assists, 1 block, 3 steals
- Kareem: 40 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks, 0 steals
- Magic: 14 points, 15 rebounds, 10 assists, 0 blocks, 3 steals
- Magic: 42 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals, 1 blocks
There is no doubt that Magic’s performance in Game Six was phenomenal, shooting 60.9% from the field and 100% from the free-throw line.
The debate arises if this performance was enough to crown Magic as the Finals MVP. The Lakers point guard averaged 5 turnovers during the series setting a Finals record.
Perhaps just an absence in Game Six cost the entire voting panel to change their decision, which seemed unfair. Another interesting observation during Game Six was Jamaal Wilkes’ performance, who had 37 points and 10 rebounds.
(1980) 38 years ago today, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was injured, so the Lakers put rookie point guard Magic Johnson at center in game 6 of the NBA Finals.
How did he respond? 42 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals. Lakers won the chip and Magic won MVP! Greatness. pic.twitter.com/Dzw6reXR98
— Timeless Sports (@timelesssports_) May 16, 2018
Sports columnist Bill Livingston publicly confessed that he and others changed votes to deny Kareem the award because CBS did not want to present an award to an empty seat. Enough of us saps changed our votes to deny Kareem the award 4-3.
It’s been more than 4 decades but this incident still feels like one of the greatest robberies of sports history.