May 16 marks the 30th anniversary of one of the landmark sports events in Los Angeles history. On that Friday night in 1980, the Los Angeles Lakers took a 3-2 finals lead into Philadelphia in a quest to clinch the National Basketball Association (NBA) title. The culmination of the evening's events would mark the first major accomplishment of a team that would be called "Showtime."
The genesis of the Lakers of the 1980s began with the team's sale (along with the Los Angeles Kings hockey team and the Forum in Inglewood) by Jack Kent Cooke to Jerry Buss. One of Cooke's last personnel moves before selling the empire to Buss was the drafting of Michigan State University guard Earvin "Magic" Johnson.
As the off-season of 1979 progressed, Buss, team general manager Bill Sharman, and consultant Jerry West would make more moves to build the team around their all-star center, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Upper management would bring in power forwards such as Spencer Haywood, Mark Landsberger and Jim Chones, who could also play center and give Abdul-Jabbar a rest. Off the previous season's injured reserve list, the team discovered Michael Cooper, a skinny yet strong defensive presence for the backcourt and to match up with small forwards at 6-6. The only two other Lakers to remain with Abdul-Jabbar from the previous season were point guard Norm Nixon and forward Jamaal Wilkes.
The head coach tapped to bring this altogether was Jack McKinney, formerly an assistant coach with the 1977 NBA champion Portland Trail Blazers. Buss and McKinney envisioned the same type of attack the Trail Blazers used with the Lakers.
As the team opened training camp in the autumn of 1979, there was a new excitement surrounding the squad that was virtually non-existent in the previous few years. With the infusion of the boyish enthusiasm of Johnson, the addition of new players with the skills to match up with the top teams across the NBA, and a coach with the right formula to blend all the diverse talents and personalities together, Abdul-Jabbar played with a renewed passion and focus.
For the first time since he came to the Lakers from the Milwaukee Bucks in the autumn of 1975, the star pivot man saw that this was a team which could truly be the best in the NBA and one that he would only have to carry in short stretches, not for the whole season. Yet, it was understood by basketball observers that whenever the Lakers were in trouble, Abdul-Jabbar would be the one to carry them through tough times. His play was so impressive that, in the spring of 1980, the league players voted him the Most Valuable Player for a record sixth time.
On other fronts, Wilkes, who had been playing out of position as a power forward for much of his career, at last would be given the opportunity to exclusively play his true position of small forward. The man known as "Silk" responded with his best season to that point, averaging 20 points a game while making an impressive 53 percent of his shots, most of which were behind-the-head, sling shot jumpers and lay-ups on the fast break.