The NBA Time Machine: 1983

Published July 27, 2023

The NBA Time Machine:

Trade Me Once, Shame On You

Good Days Are Mo-ver

Hardly acknowledged was the increasingly unstable nature of the Houston Rockets. The 1981 finalists didn’t quite achieve over the previous season, failing to improve their roster and only seeing forty-six wins. Superstar Moses Malone was so dominant that he could lug an underwhelming cast to a positive record, but the Texas magic faded by the playoffs as they bowed out in the first round.

With Malone now in free agency, the Houston’s hand was forced. They struggled to gauge the value of their franchise great, eventually settling for a yearly offer of 1.5 to 2 million. The Philadelphia 76ers subsequently joined the sweepstakes in shocking fashion, presenting a six-year contract that fell between eleven and fifteen million total. The Rockets opted to match the offer, but their two-time M.V.P. had already felt a warm appreciation from Philadelphia. With his sights now on Julius Erving-led club, Houston was forced to settle for a sign-and-trade to at least reap some benefits from their loss.

The return wasn’t exactly inspiring – all they could muster was a thirty-two-year-old Caldwell Jones and one first-round draft pick. They grabbed a franchise-worst fourteen matches and had no players reach the fifteen-point mark in scoring average.

On the flipside, Philadelphia surged with their new acquisition – their sixty-five wins was the second greatest in 76ers history, and Malone was awarded yet another M.V.P. This made him the first player to win in back-to-back seasons…on different teams.

Worthy of Success?

The Cleveland Cavaliers had asserted themselves as a directionless franchise by the early-80’s, with only three playoff appearances to their name. By mid-February of the 1979-80 season, owner Ted Stepien had playoff hopes – his club may have been 24-37, but optimism guided his decisions. There was a belief in the front office that the Cavaliers could surge in the latter half of the year and secure a playoff berth.

Stepien contacted the Los Angeles Lakers – who were a notably deep team with many unused rotational pieces – for potential trade talks. The seldom-utilized defensive specialist Don Ford was being eyed by Cleveland, and was ultimately traded for sophomore guard Butch Lee and a first-round pick. Lee was a top prospect in the 1978 draft, but injuries soured his value – the Cavaliers wanted somebody proven.

Considering the franchise was expected to be below-average at worst, the pick was not expected to be of significant value. This changed after Cleveland compiled a league-worst record, inflating its worth. Their former trade asset was now valued as the number-one pick, and they had lost it to Los Angeles. This cast a grim cloud on their future, as they could have obtained North Carolina college sensation James Worthy.

A coin flip between the Lakers and San Diego Clippers favored the bigger brother, adding a high-upside rookie to a defending championship team. This was a league-breaking move that helped further deepen their roster, and the Cavaliers were met with side eyes. An already budding dynasty was now boosted by an eventual All-Rookie talent, entirely thanks to Stepien’s hastiness.

We See You!

In accordance with the recent Comeback Player of the Year award, the NBA continued to diversify its regular season honors with two new trophies – the Defensive Player of the Year and Sixth Man of the Year.

The former was intended for the best defender of the season, initially awarded to Sidney Moncrief of the Milwaukee Bucks. The latter was designated for the best “sixth man” – a term synonymous with a bench player – eventually falling into the hands of Philadelphia’s Bobby Jones.

Standout Players

Moses Malone

Due to playing alongside better teammates, Malone’s statistics naturally regressed – however, his impact was greater than ever. He led the league in rebounding for the third consecutive season and helped Philadelphia win sixty-five games, resulting in his third M.V.P. award.

Larry Bird

Bird’s growth continued as he achieved career highs in points, rebounds, assists, and efficiency. The Celtics may not have clinched sixty games this time around, but it did not change Bird’s status as an M.V.P. runner-up for the third consecutive year.

Magic Johnson

Now a definitive superstar, the reigning Finals M.V.P. led the NBA in assists as Los Angeles saw fifty-eight victories. He became the seventh player to average ten assists in a season, and the second of the decade after Micheal Ray Richardson.

Buck Williams

The third overall pick showed out for his New Jersey club, anchoring a top-ranked defense and and the franchise’s best record since joining the NBA. Williams was also a part of the top rebounding and efficiency leaders.

Artis Gilmore

Gilmore fit perfectly with his new team, continuing his stretch of quality play and vaulting the Spurs to a fifty-win campaign again. He was one of two players to shoot over sixty-percent from the field and maintained his defensive dominance.

Sidney Moncrief

The young guard managed to develop further as a hyper-efficient two-way player. He averaged over twenty points per game for the first time and sustained his gritty persona, being awarded the inaugural Defensive Player of the Year award.

Around the League

Team Standings

An asterisk (*) indicates that the team qualified for the playoffs.

Eastern Conference
Atlantic DivisionWLCentral DivisionWL
Philadelphia 76ers*6517Milwaukee Bucks*5131
Boston Celtics*5626Atlanta Hawks*4339
New Jersey Nets*4933Detroit Pistons3745
New York Knicks*4438Chicago Bulls2854
Washington Bullets4240Cleveland Cavaliers2359
Indiana Pacers2062
Western Conference
Midwest DivisionWLPacific DivisionWL
San Antonio Spurs*5329Los Angeles Lakers*5824
Denver Nuggets*4537Phoenix Suns*5329
Kansas City Kings4537Seattle SuperSonics*4834
Dallas Mavericks3844Portland Trail Blazers*4636
Utah Jazz3052Golden State Warriors3052
Houston Rockets1468San Diego Clippers2557

Fun Facts

  • The Houston Rockets’ record of 14-68 became the second worst in NBA history.
  • This was the Boston Celtics’ first season below sixty wins since the debut of Larry Bird.
  • The San Antonio Spurs continued their hot streak of divisional titles, winning their third in a row.
  • For the first time since 1978, all members of a division finished with a winning record.
    • This was accomplished by the Atlantic Division, whose worst team was the forty-two-win Washington Bullets.
  • Although they did not clinch a playoff berth, the Dallas Mavericks improved in swift fashion for an expansion team – they were only three games under .500, and developed a distinct offense-oriented mentality.
  • The Denver Nuggets led the NBA in pace for the third straight season.
  • Under the watch of Moses Malone, the Philadelphia 76ers obtained their first divisional title since 1978.

Notable Movement


The player stats listed are based on their last tenure, whether it be with their former team or the previous season.
Name(s) under the “Top Draft Picks” section with a plus (+) opted to play in another league instead of the NBA this season.

p – points
r – rebounds
a – assists
s – steals
b – blocks

Top Draft Picks

Los Angeles Lakers
San Diego Clippers
Utah Jazz
Dallas Mavericks
Kansas City Kings
New York Knicks
Chicago Bulls
Indiana Pacers
Detroit Pistons
Atlanta Hawks
James Worthy
Terry Cummings
Dominique Wilkins
Bill Garnett
LaSalle Thompson
Trent Tucker
Quintin Dailey
Clark Kellogg
Cliff Levingston
Keith Edmonson


July 7, 1982Truck RobinsonPhoenix SunsTradedNew York Knicks(19.1p/9.7r/2.4a)
July 22, 1982Artis GilmoreChicago BullsTradedSan Antonio Spurs(18.5p/10.2r/2.7b)
September 15, 1982Moses MaloneHouston RocketsTradedPhiladelphia 76ers(31.1p/14.7r/1.5b)
October 22, 1982Bernard KingGolden State WarriorsTradedNew York Knicks(23.2p/5.9r/3.6a)
February 6, 1983Micheal Ray RichardsonGolden State WarriorsTradedNew Jersey Nets(12.5p/7.4a/3.1s)

Other Personnel

June 23, 1982Coach Paul WestheadChicago BullsHired
October 21, 1982Coach Bill MusselmanCleveland CavaliersResigned
October 21, 1982Coach Tom NissalkeCleveland CavaliersHired
March 13, 1983Coach Al AttlesGolden State WarriorsReassigned
April 6, 1983Coach Larry BrownNew Jersey NetsResigned
April 8, 1983Coach Stan AlbeckNew Jersey NetsHired
April 18, 1983Coach Scotty RobertsonDetroit PistonsFired
April 20, 1983Coach Paul SilasSan Diego ClippersFired
April 22, 1983Coach Del HarrisHouston RocketsResigned
May 10, 1983Coach Paul WestheadChicago BullsFired
May 12, 1983Coach Johnny BachGolden State WarriorsHired
May 17, 1983Coach Chuck DalyDetroit PistonsHired
May 27, 1983Coach Bill FitchBoston CelticsFired


PlayerTeam(s)Notable Accomplishments
Bob DandridgeMilwaukee Bucks
Washington Bullets
2x Champion
1x All-NBA
4x All-Star
1x All-Defensive
1970 All-Rookie Team
John JohnsonCleveland Cavaliers
Portland Trail Blazers
Houston Rockets
Seattle SuperSonics
1x Champion
2x All-Star
George McGinnisPhiladelphia 76ers
Denver Nuggets
Indiana Pacers
2x All-NBA
3x All-Star

League Leaders


PPG – points per game
RPG – rebounds per game
APG – assists per game
SPG – steals per game
BPG – blocks per game
FG% – field goal percentage (percentage of shots that hit)
FT% – free throw percentage (percentage of foul shots that hit)
3P% – three-point field goal percentage (percentage of three-point shots that hit)

PPGAlex English (28.4)
Kiki Vandeweghe (26.7)
Kelly Tripucka (26.5)
George Gervin (26.2)
Moses Malone (24.5)
RPGMoses Malone (15.3)
Buck Williams (12.5)
Bill Laimbeer (12.1)
Artis Gilmore (12)
Jack Sikma (11.4)
APGMagic Johnson (10.5)
Johnny Moore (9.8)
Rickey Green (8.9)
Larry Drew (8.1)
Frank Johnson (8.1)
SPGMicheal Ray Richardson (2.8)
Rickey Green (2.8)
Johnny Moore (2.5)
Isiah Thomas (2.5)
Darwin Cook (2.4)
BPGTree Rollins (4.3)
Bill Walton (3.6)
Mark Eaton (3.4)
Larry Nance (2.6)
Artis Gilmore (2.3)
FG%Artis Gilmore (62%)
Steve Johnson (62%)
Darryl Dawkins (59%)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (58%)
Buck Williams (58%)
FT%Calvin Murphy (92%)
Kiki Vandeweghe (87%)
Kyle Macy (87%)
George Gervin (85%)
Adrian Dantley (84%)
3P%Mike Dunleavy (34%)
Isiah Thomas (28%)
Darrell Griffith (28%)
Allen Leavell (24%)


First Round

East / Boston Celtics beat Atlanta Hawks, 2-1
These franchises had history, but their relations had been few and between for a decade now. 1973 was their last playoff matchup, and they were wildly different rosters at this point in time.

Boston warded off Dan Roundfield and Dominique Wilkins in Game 1, but fell short in the second outing due to a Larry Bird shooting slump. Game 3 was a physical and tense match, including a fight between Atlanta’s Tree Rollins and Boston’s Danny Ainge – the latter’s club emerged victorious, however, thanks to Bird’s thorough dominance.
East / New York Knicks beat New Jersey Nets, 2-0
For the first time in league history, the bordering rivals had been good enough to host a post-season round. Also an intriguing narrative was the battle of siblings Bernard and Albert King, who represented the Knicks and Nets respectively.

Bernard’s experience showed from the jump, scoring forty points to lift New York to their first playoff win in five years. Despite being outplayed by his brother in the subsequent Game 2, the Knicks’ offensive depth prompted a sweep – their bench outscored New Jersey’s 33-12.
West / Denver Nuggets beat Phoenix Suns, 2-1
Consecutive first round battles were on the plate for these western small markets, with Denver eager to avenge their previous disappointment. A Game 1 blowout loss was not exactly moving, but not all was lost.

Seventy-two combined points from Kiki Vandeweghe, Alex English, and Dan Issel lifted the Nuggets to a series tie, setting the stage for a road tiebreaker match. Affairs were competitive, going into overtime after a timely three-pointer from Mike Evans. Denver managed to claim victory as Alex English exploded for forty-two points, marking the franchise’s first series win since 1978.
West / Portland Trail Blazers beat Seattle SuperSonics, 2-0
The northwest’s favorite rivalry was back in action. Portland had never beaten Seattle in a series, but this was a better opportunity than ever – they had caught up to their contemporaries in overall roster quality, only worse by two wins and splitting the regular season series.

Despite the acrobatic production of Gus Williams, the Blazers stood their ground. Their supporting players were simply significantly better than Seattle’s, a claim further proven by sixth man Kenny Carr’s seventeen points in Game 2.


East / Milwaukee Bucks beat Boston Celtics, 4-0
Despite being among the Eastern Conference’s top contenders for years, the Bucks and Celtics had yet to meet in during the 80’s until now. Boston was rendered as the superior club due to their experience and personnel, but a down year for the 1981 Champions was a trait Milwaukee eyed closely.

The Bucks tore Boston apart in Game 1, shocking the Garden. A combination of the flu and a hand injury then kept Larry Bird out of the second match, resulting in consecutive home losses that spelt bad news for the Celtics. Not a single game favored them, with Marques Johnson eventually handling business in Game 4 with thirty-three points and nine rebounds.

Boston had now been swept, an occurrence considered pitiful for the storied franchise. Their last appearance on the wrong end of a playoff sweep was 1954, and this was their first in a seven-game format.
East / Philadelphia 76ers beat New York Knicks, 4-0
The 76ers were rested and immensely confident, with Moses Malone publicly betting on his club – “fo, fo, fo” was his prediction, claiming they would steamroll through the post-season lossless. This had yet to be done by an NBA team to date, but there was a first for everything…

Philadelphia got off to a proper start, dismantling the Knicks in a sweep. New York’s once-formidable defense collapsed, entirely incapable of guarding Malone and Maurice Cheeks. Out-gunning their adversaries was of no use, either – the only prolific scorer they had was Bernard King, who could not take down an army alone.
West / Los Angeles Lakers beat Portland Trail Blazers, 4-1
The last time Kareem Abdul-Jabbar stared down red jerseys of this hue, Los Angeles was in a darker place. Their supporting cast was a mess, they had no marketability, and were held to zero wins as Bill Walton’s Trail Blazers advanced to the Finals to win a championship.

Six years later, matters were different. The Lakers were now on pace to reach dynastic success, and Portland was devoid of a legitimate superstar. The Captain averaged thirty-three points through a few matches to jump to a 3-0 lead, sights locked on a Conference Finals appearance.

A hot start from the Blazers won them Game 4, but Norm Nixon’s fiery thirty-six-point bomb in the fifth contest ensured his club’s survival.
West / San Antonio Spurs beat Denver Nuggets, 4-1
Since migrating to the NBA, these former ABA franchises had yet to face off. They did via tiebreaker in their former league, but a meet in 1983 wasn’t quite the same as a Texas Chaparrals vs. Denver Rockets headline. In their modern form, fans were blessed with two offensive juggernauts speeding through the wonders of basketball.

San Antonio amply out-played Denver. Some highlights from the first few games included forty-two points from George Gervin in Game 1, twenty assists from Johnny Moore in Game 2, and a ludicrous 39/8/12 stat-line with five steals from the point guard a couple nights later.

The Nuggets finally managed a victory in Game 4 following an ugly shooting night from the Spurs. In response, San Antonio closed the series out with a forty-point victory – a profoundly disrespectful statement.

Conference Finals

East / Philadelphia 76ers beat Milwaukee Bucks, 4-1
Three years of 76ers-Bucks basketball. It was as inevitable as the Philadelphia-Boston rivalry at this point, but these teams could at least rejoice in the fall of their shared Massachusetts rival.

Milwaukee entered scrappy, even forcing overtime after a Junior Bridgeman game-tying shot. Their defense on Moses Malone was quality in Game 1, but the M.V.P. quickly broke through their schemes to win three straight matches.

The Bucks narrowly won the fourth game – therefore spoiling Malone’s playoff sweep hopes – but were shot down shortly after by the center’s twenty-eight points, seventeen rebounds and four blocks.
West / Los Angeles Lakers beat San Antonio Spurs, 4-2
A rematch of last year’s Western Conference Finals was underway, albeit with a major difference – Artis Gilmore. The multiple-time All-Star was the perfect asset to slow down Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, which energized San Antonio. To emphasize the validity of their poise, they beat Los Angeles 4-1 in the regular season series – they statistically had the defending champions’ number.

Wins were split in The Forum, but the Lakers mustered two road wins to build a cushioned series lead. San Antonio fought for their lives in Game 5 to keep their aspirations afloat, but they lost in soul-crushing fashion immediately after. Despite twenty-four points and eighteen rebounds from Artis Gilmore, the Texan team slipped into the losers’ column by one point.


Philadelphia 76ers beat Los Angeles Lakers, 4-0
The Finals was now presenting a clear-cut rivalry – these franchises had met at this stage for the third time in four years, and the 76ers were hungry to finally dethrone Los Angeles for a title of their own.

Moses Malone proved his status as the world’s best player, looking unstoppable in Philadelphia’s two home wins to begin the series. The Lakers jumped to a large lead in Game 3, comfortable in the Californian air – however, the play of Sixth Man of the Year Bobby Jones provided the 76ers with enough energy to come back and win yet again.

The chances of a Los Angeles repeat seemed close to zero at this point, considering a 3-0 lead had never been reversed. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Malone had a battle for the ages, with the thirty-five-year-old collecting more points – however, the reigning M.V.P. out-rebounded his rival by sixteen. This, in tandem with good performances from Julius Erving and Maurice Cheeks, was the dealbreaker – the 76ers were champions again for the first time in sixteen years.
The Philadelphia 76ers win the 1983 NBA championship!
Moses Malone was named the Finals Most Valuable Player.


Name(s) under the “All-Stars” section with an asterisk (*) were listed as the MVP of the All-Star Game that year. Those with “(IR)” next to their name were chosen to replace an injured star.

Major Awards

Rookie of the YearMVPFinals MVPCoach of the Year
Terry CummingsMoses MaloneMoses MaloneDon Nelson
Comeback Player of the YearDefensive Player of the YearSixth Man of the Year
Paul WestphalSidney MoncriefBobby Jones


All-NBA First TeamAll-NBA Second Team
Magic Johnson
Sidney Moncrief
Julius Erving
Larry Bird
Moses Malone
Isiah Thomas
George Gervin

Alex English
Buck Williams
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar


All-Defensive First TeamAll-Defensive Second Team
Maurice Cheeks
Dennis Johnson
Sidney Moncrief
Dan Roundfield
Bobby Jones
Moses Malone
T.R. Dunn
Michael Cooper
Larry Bird
Kevin McHale

Tree Rollins


Eastern All-StarsWestern All-Stars
Larry Bird
Maurice Cheeks
Julius Erving
Marques Johnson
Bill Laimbeer
Moses Malone
Sidney Moncrief
Robert Parish
Reggie Theus
Isiah Thomas
Andrew Toney
Buck Williams
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Alex English
George Gervin

Artis Gilmore
Magic Johnson
Maurice Lucas
Jim Paxson
Jack Sikma
David Thompson
Kiki Vandeweghe
Jamaal Wilkes
Gus Williams
East beats West, 132-123


All-Rookie Team
Terry Cummings
Quintin Dailey
Clark Kellogg
Dominique Wilkins
James Worthy

All-Time Championship Leaderboard

The Baltimore Bullets (1947-1954) won the championship in 1948, but are defunct. As a result, they are not listed.

Celtics141957, 1959
1960, 1961
1962, 1963
1964, 1965
1966, 1967
1969, 1974

1976, 1981
Lakers81949, 1950
1952, 1953
1954, 1972

1980, 1982
Warriors31947, 1956
76ers31955, 1967
Knicks21970, 1973
Trail Blazers11977
Enjoy Your Read? Subscribe and Never Miss a Post!

Leave a Reply