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.

Since this Lakers team would make the fast break its trade mark, Nixon operated as a co-point guard with Johnson. Consequently, if opposing defenses denied Johnson the ball, Nixon’s ball handling skills and speed could still lead the Lakers on a fast break. Additionally, Nixon’s accurate outside shooting made it hard for teams to double-team Abdul-Jabbar.

With this dynamite winning combination, the Lakers played well throughout the season (60 wins, Pacific Division Title–the team’s first in three years) going into the 1980 NBA playoffs. Among the key challenges the team faced and overcame were the unexpected and unfortunate bicycle accident of coach McKinney 13 games into the season (he fell on his head and would never coach the Lakers again; he was replaced by his assistant coach Paul Westhead who brought in Laker broadcast analyst Pat Riley to be his assistant coach); Abdul-Jabbar’s periodic migraine headaches (he never missed a game, however), and Haywood’s eccentric, disruptive behavior (he was suspended twice during the season, the last ousting during the finals; the power forward later admitted a season-long cocaine addiction).

That year’s NBA finals featured the Lakers against the Philadelphia 76ers. The first four games in this best-of-seven game series included performances by the leading star of each team. The Lakers won two games behind the on-court dominance of the league’s MVP Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The Sixers won the other two games on the creative, mid-air dynamics of Julius Erving, better known as “Dr. J.” The teams battled evenly in a pivotal game five, when late in the third quarter, Abdul-Jabbar severely twisted his left ankle making a basket to give the Lakers a two-point lead. Many in the Forum gasped as the 7-2 center was helped off the floor by Lakers’ trainer Jack Curran.

For the rest of the quarter, the Lakers pulled together as rookie Johnson, Nixon, Wilkes, and Cooper produced a quarter-ending 12-6 run to push the Lakers’ lead up to eight points going into the final quarter. Just before the deciding period began, Abdul-Jabbar emerged from the locker room onto the playing floor ready to continue. His dramatic return energized the crowd. The NBA MVP played brilliantly and courageously, scoring 14 points in the deciding quarter on a heavily taped ankle. He also scored the game-winning three-point play with a dunk over Erving, who fouled him with 33 seconds to play, ultimately giving Los Angeles a 108-103 victory and a 3-2 lead in the finals with game six to be played in Philadelphia.

However, with his ankle continuing to swell, the Lakers’ center would not be able to fly with the team to Philadelphia for the match-up scheduled two nights later. The general thought process within the Lakers’ camp was that Abdul-Jabbar stay in L.A. and heal and be ready for game seven at the Forum four days later. “People thought that without Kareem we had no chance to win,” Nixon says now. “What they didn’t realize was that was the Lakers of years before.

“Dr. Buss and Coach McKinney had built the team around the big fella so that even when he was on the bench for long stretches or if he fouled out, we could still fend for ourselves and win.”

Going into the City of Brotherly Love for game six, Johnson told his teammates, “I got news for those reporters: There won’t be a game seven.” Coach Westhead decided that the Lakers should run for the full 48 minutes. He also decided to go with Johnson at center in place of the injured Abdul-Jabbar, surrounded by Wilkes, Chones, Nixon and Cooper. The coach topped off his strategy with the psychological ploy of Johnson jumping center to start the game.

As the team dressed for the game in the Spectrum visiting locker room, Curran relayed a long-distance phone message from Abdul-Jabbar: Go for it. The team was inspired and dedicated the game to bringing home the NBA finals trophy to their center.

A fast start was vital to the Lakers’ cause and they jumped out to a 7-0 lead to at the beginning. Eventually, momentum shifted and the Sixers, behind Erving, forged ahead by eight points, 52-44. However, Johnson, with strong support from Wilkes, fought back to a 60-60 half-time tie.

As the second half began, the Lakers, a strong third-quarter team throughout the 1980 playoffs, ran off a 14-0 fast-break onslaught to gain a 74-60 lead. But behind the leadership of Erving, the Sixers pulled within two points several times but Johnson or Wilkes would make a key basket or steal to thwart their comeback effort.

“Those two guys killed us,” Philadelphia head coach Billy Cunningham said later. Ultimately, the Lakers defeated the Sixers 123-107 to win the NBA title. Johnson finished with 42 points, 15 rebounds, and 7 assists and garnered finals MVP honors. Wilkes finished with 37 points and 10 rebounds, outplaying Erving who finished with 27 points.

To date, Johnson is the only rookie to ever be awarded finals MVP. Wilkes’ performance ranks as not only one of the most underrated of all time but a summary of his career: A great performance overshadowed by a great teammate (At UCLA he was overshadowed by Walton; at Golden State he was overshadowed by Rick Barry, then he was clouded by Kareem, Magic, and a cast of thousands in L.A.).

The 1980 game six performance by the Los Angeles Lakers ranks as one of the greatest team performances in history. Johnson’s performance immediately pushed him into the upper tier of Los Angeles athletes. He helped validate “Showtime” as a legitimate, championship-winning phenomenon.

Combining the skills of Abdul-Jabbar, Johnson, Wilkes, Nixon, Cooper, and later, James Worthy, Kurt Rambis, Bob McAdoo, Mychal Thompson, and Byron Scott, the Los Angeles Lakers won five NBA titles in the 1980s. They combined style with championship toughness to capture the imagination of a city and a league with a brand called ‘Showtime.” And its coming out party was Friday, May 16, 1980.