The NBA Time Machine: 1983

Published July 27, 2023

The NBA Time Machine:
1983


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

Notes
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

Key

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

#TeamPlayer
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
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

Players

DatePlayerTeamActionDestinationStats
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

DatePersonTeamAction
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

Retirements

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

Key

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)

StatLeaders
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%)

Playoffs

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.

Semifinals

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.

Finals

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.

Awards

Notes
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

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

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

All-Stars

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

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

All-Time Championship Leaderboard

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

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

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

1980, 1982
Warriors31947, 1956
1975
76ers31955, 1967
1983
Knicks21970, 1973
Kings11951
Hawks11958
Bucks11971
Trail Blazers11977
Bullets11978
SuperSonics11979
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The NBA Time Machine: 1982

Published July 15, 2023

The NBA Time Machine:
1982


Butting Heads

Poison in the Lake

Coming off a bitter end to the 1980-81 season, the air was a tad toxic in the Los Angeles Lakers’ locker room. This was a byproduct of disputes between coach Paul Westhead and star player Magic Johnson.

Affairs begun on a decent note, with the team going 7-3 through their first ten games. Following a narrow win against the Utah Jazz in early November, the basketball community was rushed with shocking news as Johnson requested a trade to another team. He was becoming increasingly frustrated with Westhead’s coaching philosophy.

The traditionalist coach preferred to run deliberate plays that involved a patient halfcourt offense designed to feed Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Johnson did not necessarily have any ill will towards his teammate and mentor, but his offensive ideologies could not have been more different. His vision involved embracing the fast break and demolishing opponent morale with speed and energy.

Given that Johnson could not realize his potential in this system, he reached a breaking point. It was now up to the front office to choose between their star or coach, and history favored the former. This situation was not exempt, as Westhead was fired less than twenty-four hours after news of the request materialized.

Pat Riley, who was an assistant, was ultimately nominated to take the lead role. His willingness to consider Johnson’s approach ultimately led to a fifty-seven-win season and a near-triple-double statistical average for the guard.

Pay Your Guard

In an era of growing player independence, Gus Williams was yet another talent complacent with dismissing his playing duties. The one-time champion sat out the entirety of the previous year, stripping the Seattle SuperSonics of a primary scoring option. They did manage to acquire the multiple-time All-Star Paul Westphal in a trade, but injury woes rendered that move a failure.

Williams’ primary motive for holding out was financial. The guard claimed he had personal reasons intensifying his choice, but they were not detailed. Seattle ultimately gave in, upgrading from a proposed five-hundred-thousand-dollar deal to a monumental one of three-million.

Due to managing his condition in missed time, Williams was far from rusty. He averaged career highs in scoring and assists, therefore receiving his first All-Star Game selection and the Comeback Player of the Year award. The SuperSonics also improved by eighteen games under his lead.

K.C. Kollapse

During the 1981 off-season, the Cleveland Cavaliers forwarded an offer sheet to Kansas City Kings star Otis Birdsong. The expectation was that the shooting guard would side with Cleveland, who had proposed a five-million-dollar agreement – unless the Kings matched the price or traded him, of course.

The reigning Western Conference Finalists were now met with a harsh ultimatum – fork up some significant funds, or lose the franchise’s best player of the last five years. They ultimately chose the latter in an exchange with the New Jersey Nets – Birdsong and a second-round draft pick were swapped for the young and promising power forward Cliff Robinson.

In further conflicts with Cleveland they also lost former All-Star Scott Wedman. While Kansas City did receive a first-round draft pick as compensation, this ripped apart their timeline – they were now working with a severely inexperienced roster that was unlikely to make any serious noise.

After trading Robinson mid-way through the season – to yes, you guessed it, the Cavaliers – Kansas City ultimately embraced a rebuilding period. They finished the season on a 14-18 run and clinched a bottom-five record in the NBA.

Just a Few Buckets

On March 6, the Milwaukee Bucks and San Antonio Spurs went head-to-head in what was an inconspicuous matchup. Both teams were very good, ensuring a quality show, but there were no particular implications at play.

What instead transpired was a historic moment – a triple-overtime showdown that resulted in the highest-scoring game in NBA history. San Antonio bested their adversaries with a 171-166 finish, witnessing ninety-five combined points from George Gervin and Mike Mitchell. Johnny Moore also dished out sixteen assists while only recording one turnover.

On the other end, Brian Winters and Junior Bridgeman recorded a jointed seventy-three points off the bench, nine of which came from three-point shots. Regardless, Milwaukee was bested and spiraled into a five-game losing streak due to exhaustion.

Calming the Thunder

Due to the established popularity of explosive dunks, the NBA was forced to consider the safety of their resources. They chose to implement breakaway rims – which were better-equipped for strong forces – to avoid ramifications such as player injury or shattered backboards. World-class dunkers, including Darryl Dawkins and David Thompson, were protected most by this decision.


Standout Players

Moses Malone

For the third time in the past four seasons, Malone led the NBA in rebounding. The Rockets’ forty-six wins was the third-highest total in franchise history, and he was awarded his second M.V.P. award for dragging a rather bleak supporting cast to the playoffs.

Larry Bird

The superstar forward reached another stage of offensive excellence, averaging career highs in scoring and assists. He also shot over fifty-percent from the field for the first time. Boston’s sixty-three win total became the second-highest the team had ever seen.

Julius Erving

It was yet another business year for the Doctor, who scored on blistering efficiency to keep Philadelphia in firm contention. Despite the gap between him and the next-highest scorer being eight points, the 76ers were a top-five ranked offense – a clear indicator of his impact, if there ever was one.

Magic Johnson

Despite being the proprietor of tension in the locker room, the Los Angeles Lakers had effectively handed the keys to Johnson. He was their best performer, only being half a rebound and assist short of averaging a triple double for the season. The guard also led the league in steals once again.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

This was not Abdul-Jabbar’s prettiest statistical showing – he averaged career lows in all major statistics, and finished with a single-digit rebound average for the first time. This was all by design, though – the improvement of Magic Johnson allowed the Captain to take a backseat in responsibility.

George Gervin

The Iceman won his fourth scoring title amidst yet another Spurs divisional title. This was the club’s fourth in the past five years. They also finished with a top-three offense behind Gervin’s tricks, setting the stage for what could be a competitive playoff run.


Around the League

Team Standings

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

Eastern Conference
Atlantic DivisionWLCentral DivisionWL
Boston Celtics*6319Milwaukee Bucks*5527
Philadelphia 76ers*5824Atlanta Hawks*4240
New Jersey Nets*4438Detroit Pistons3943
Washington Bullets*4339Indiana Pacers3547
New York Knicks3349Chicago Bulls3448
Cleveland Cavaliers1567
Western Conference
Midwest DivisionWLPacific DivisionWL
San Antonio Spurs*4834Los Angeles Lakers*5725
Denver Nuggets*4636Seattle SuperSonics*5230
Houston Rockets*4636Phoenix Suns*4636
Kansas City Kings3052Golden State Warriors4537
Dallas Mavericks2854Portland Trail Blazers4240
Utah Jazz2557San Diego Clippers1765

Fun Facts

  • The New Jersey Nets earned their first winning season since joining the NBA.
  • Despite finishing with winning records, the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers could not secure a playoff berth in the uber-competitive Pacific Division.
  • The twenty-five game gap separating the Portland Trail Blazers and San Diego Clippers was the largest between two divisional rivals since the format was implemented.
  • This was the Phoenix Suns’ first finish below fifty wins since 1978.
  • With four rotational pieces at thirty years of age or higher, the Houston Rockets were the clear-cut oldest squad around.
    • This was finalized by the acquiring of multiple-time All-Star Elvin Hayes, who was the oldest player in the NBA.
  • Alex English’s breakout was the catalyst for a Denver Nuggets bounce-back campaign.
    • Behind him, they sported a generational scoring arsenal – their average of 126.5 points per game was more than enough to boast the league’s top-ranked offense.
      • This was neutralized by their horrific defensive tendencies, giving up 126 points per game as well.

Notable Movement

Key

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

#TeamPlayer
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
Dallas Mavericks
Detroit Pistons
New Jersey Nets
Atlanta Hawks
Seattle SuperSonics
Chicago Bulls
Kansas City Kings
San Diego Clippers
Dallas Mavericks
New Jersey Nets
Mark Aguirre
Isiah Thomas
Buck Williams
Al Wood
Danny Vranes
Orlando Woolridge
Steve Johnson
Tom Chambers
Rolando Blackman
Albert King

Players

DatePlayerTeamActionDestinationStats
June 8, 1981Scott WedmanKansas City KingsSignedCleveland Cavaliers(19p/5.3r/2.8a)
June 8, 1981Otis BirdsongKansas City KingsTradedNew Jersey Nets(24.6p/3.6r/3.3a)
June 18, 1981Gus WilliamsSeattle SuperSonicsSigned (from holdout)Seattle SuperSonics(22.1p/4.8a/2.2s)
December 23, 1981Mike MitchellCleveland CavaliersTradedSan Antonio Spurs(19.6p/5.2r/1s)
February 12, 1982Paul WestphalSeattle SuperSonicsSignedNew York Knicks(16.7p/4.1a/1.3s)

Other Personnel

DatePersonTeamActionStats
November 19, 1981Coach Paul WestheadLos Angeles LakersFiredRecord: 7-4
November 19, 1981Coach Pat RileyLos Angeles LakersHiredRecord: 50-21
December 3, 1981Coach Don DelaneyCleveland CavaliersFiredRecord: 4-11
December 3, 1981Coach Bob KloppenburgCleveland CavaliersAppointed (Interim)Record: 0-3
December 4, 1981Coach Chuck DalyCleveland CavaliersHiredRecord: n/a
December 10, 1981Coach Tom NissalkeUtah JazzFiredRecord: 8-12
December 10, 1981Coach Frank LaydenUtah JazzHiredRecord: 17-45
February 17, 1982Coach Jerry SloanChicago BullsFiredRecord: 19-32
February 17, 1982Coach Phil JohnsonChicago BullsAppointed (Interim)Record: 0-1
March 8, 1982Coach Chuck DalyCleveland CavaliersFiredRecord: 9-32
March 8, 1982Coach Bill MusselmanCleveland CavaliersAppointed (Interim)Record: 2-21
May 14, 1982Coach Red HolzmanNew York KnicksRetiredRecord: 33-49
May 20, 1982Coach Hubie BrownNew York KnicksHiredRecord: n/a

Retirements

PlayerTeam(s)Notable Accomplishments
Phil ChenierWashington Bullets
Indiana Pacers

Golden State Warriors
1x Champion
1x All-NBA
3x All-Star
1972 All-Rookie Team
Doug CollinsPhiladelphia 76ers4x All-Star
Rudy TomjanovichHouston Rockets5x All-Star
Wes UnseldWashington Bullets1x Champion
1x Finals MVP
1x MVP
1x All-NBA
5x All-Star
1969 Rookie of the Year
1969 All-Rookie Team
1x Rebounds Leader
Jo Jo WhiteBoston Celtics
Golden State Warriors
Kansas City Kings
2x Champion
1x Finals MVP
2x All-NBA
7x All-Star
1970 All-Rookie Team
Sidney WicksPortland Trail Blazers
Boston Celtics
San Diego Clippers
4x All-Star
1972 Rookie of the Year
1972 All-Rookie Team

League Leaders

Key

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)

StatLeaders
PPGGeorge Gervin (32.3)
Moses Malone (31.1)
Adrian Dantley (30.3)
Alex English (25.4)
Julius Erving (24.4)
RPGMoses Malone (14.7)
Jack Sikma (12.7)
Buck Williams (12.3)
Mychal Thompson (11.7)
Maurice Lucas (11.3)
APGJohnny Moore (9.6)
Magic Johnson (9.5)
Maurice Cheeks (8.4)
Tiny Archibald (8)
Norm Nixon (8)
SPGMagic Johnson (2.7)
Maurice Cheeks (2.6)
Micheal Ray Richardson (2.6)
Quinn Buckner (2.5)
Ray Williams (2.4)
BPGGeorge Johnson (3.1)
Tree Rollins (2.8)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (2.7)
Artis Gilmore (2.7)
Robert Parish (2.4)
FG%Artis Gilmore (65%)
Steve Johnson (61%)
Buck Williams (58%)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (57%)
Calvin Natt (57%)
FT%Kyle Macy (89%)
Charlie Criss (88%)
John Long (86%)
George Gervin (86%)
Larry Bird (86%)
3P%Campy Russell (43%)
Andrew Toney (42%)
Kyle Macy (39%)
Brian Winters (38%)
Don Buse (38%)

Playoffs

First Round

East / Philadelphia 76ers beat Atlanta Hawks, 2-0
After a strange down year that involved a playoff absence, the Hawks returned to form and looked to upset the fiery 76ers. Chances were slim, but anything was possible for a team known to defy odds.

Atlanta entered flat, giving Philadelphia a free lane to win. The latter took Game 1 by a staggering thirty-five points, an effort that commenced after Darryl Dawkins set the tone. The center had twenty-seven points, nine rebounds, and eight blocks.

Dan Roundfield of the Hawks made the second match much more competitive, even going to overtime. However, the 76ers squeezed through by a narrow three-point margin to secure a playoff advance.
East / Washington Bullets beat New Jersey Nets, 2-0
Only separated by one game in the win column, either club could conceivably advance to the Semifinals. Both were known for their defensive aptitude, with New Jersey particularly standing out in that regard – however, their personnel situation was much less enticing. Otis Birdsong, their newest acquisition, was out to injury which damaged their depth.

Washington took both matches comfortably, with the former being powered by eighteen points and twenty rebounds from Jeff Ruland off the bench. The Nets simply failed to find an offensive rhythm, something the presence of Birdsong would have rectified.
West / Phoenix Suns beat Denver Nuggets, 2-1
These Western Conference representatives had never met in the post-season before, despite being mutual contenders for a number of years. Their philosophies were antithetical – the Suns won games with draining defense and depth, while Denver was a top-heavy roster that wanted to run-and-gun at all times.

Home games were split, causing an arrangement for Game 3. A strong third quarter from Phoenix – as well as thirty points from Walter Davis off the bench – was enough to get by and maintain the franchise’s four-year streak of Semifinals appearances.
West / Seattle SuperSonics beat Houston Rockets, 2-1
The Rockets may have been defending Conference Champions, but Seattle’s re-emergence as a powerhouse was concerning. The presence of Gus Williams was enough to change a team’s pace and effectiveness, something Houston was required to monitor.

Williams and Moses Malone swapped big performances in wins for their clubs, indicating a tiebreaker was imminent. Despite a decent outing from Malone, the Rockets’ putrid depth was a sight to see for the SuperSonics. Jack Sikma’s thirty points and seventeen rebounds led the team to a series win.

Semifinals

East / Boston Celtics beat Washington Bullets, 4-1
Boston and Washington had not met in the post-season since the 1975 Eastern Conference Finals. These were entirely different cores now, led by Larry Bird and Greg Ballard as opposed to Dave Cowens and Elvin Hayes.

Game 1 was a solid Celtics win, and the second match was looking to be the same – Frank Johnson of the Bullets thought otherwise, hitting a three-pointer to put his club up with three seconds left. Following this 1-1 series tie, Boston took a hefty lead behind big showings from Robert Parish.

The fifth game was down to the wire, with Jeff Ruland hitting a couple free throws at the end to force overtime. No progress was made as it eventually went to a second period, where the Celtics finally pulled away. Parish recorded thirty-three points, thirteen rebounds, three assists, and six blocks in the series-clinching victory.
East / Philadelphia 76ers beat Milwaukee Bucks, 4-2
Milwaukee and Philadelphia returned right where they left off last year – in the Semifinals. Both teams were still just about as even as possible, although the Bucks had a 4-2 advantage in the regular season series.

Cream City’s club struggled to effectively close out games – the 76ers jumped to a 3-1 lead in no time, and the singular loss stemmed from a Sidney Moncrief walk-off buzzer beater. Six double-digit Milwaukee scorers earned the ownership of Game 5, but the entire team – sans Mickey Johnson – shriveled in the must-win sixth match.
West / Los Angeles Lakers beat Phoenix Suns, 4-0
Historically speaking, the Lakers simply had Phoenix’s number. They just gentleman’s swept them a couple years prior, and their chances seemed even prettier this time around.

Consecutive Magic Johnson triple-doubles in blowout wins killed the Suns’ morale immediately. The superstar continued to thoroughly pick apart his opponent in the following outings, eventually leading Los Angeles to a full-power sweep.

Offense bolstered the Lakers – four of the series’ top-five scorers were on their side.
West / San Antonio Spurs beat Seattle SuperSonics, 4-1
A game winner from George Gervin was the first taste fans experienced in this duel, giving the Spurs a quick 1-0 lead. Gus Williams’ determination was enough to keep Seattle in the mix – his thirty-four points and nine assists tied up affairs.

Uninterested in losing their edge, San Antonio pulled off three straight wins behind balanced team performances to advance in five games. Williams was absolutely nuclear offensively but did not receive enough help from his supporting cast, sending the SuperSonics into an anticlimactic defeat.

Conference Finals

East / Philadelphia 76ers beat Boston Celtics, 4-3
For the third consecutive season, the Eastern Conference’s two best teams met in the Conference Finals. This series was perhaps the most important of these teams to date – not only would it break a 1-1 tie, but could open up the gates for a Celtics repeat or long-coveted 76ers title.

On what has been dubbed the “Mother’s Day Massacre”, Boston opened the series with a vicious forty-point blowout led by Larry Bird’s triple-double. Philadelphia responded maturely, securing the next three games behind Andrew Toney’s blistering twenty-eight-point scoring average. The young guard had begun to develop a reputation of being a Celtic killer, earning the nickname “The Boston Strangler”.

Now down 3-1, the green team was in a familiar position. They had overcome this sort of deficit just a season ago, and seemed prepared to replicate that after winning two matches to force Game 7. Thirty-four points from Toney prevented history from repeating, though – he helped Philadelphia enjoy a cushioned win that confirmed their third Finals appearance in the past six years.


Despite the series loss, Boston fans still had life in them – as they watched their players concede defeat, “Beat LA!” chants were heard across the Garden to motivate the lesser of two rivals.
West / Los Angeles Lakers beat San Antonio Spurs, 4-0
Now in the Conference Finals again for the first time since 1979, the Spurs had a large task awaiting them. Dismantling Los Angeles, who had just about all factors in their favor, would not be easy.

Simply put, San Antonio did not have the roster construction to outplay the Lakers. The latter ran too deep in their rotation while also giving minutes to multiple superstars. George Gervin averaged a strong thirty-two points per game for the series, but one man could not defeat an army.

Finals

Los Angeles Lakers beat Philadelphia 76ers, 4-2
After losing in six games to the Lakers in 1980, Philadelphia had redemption in their sights. They had still yet to win a title in the Julius Erving era, instead riding the coattails of the historic 1967 championship run.

Both teams won a game apiece to open up matters, enjoying the benefit of having multiple double-digit scorers. Despite motivating showings from Andrew Toney, the 76ers dropped both road matches and ended up down 3-1 on the plane ride home. They blew Los Angeles out in Game 5 behind Toney’s thirty-one points and eight assists, but had to enter the sixth contest with a different mentality than what was displayed a couple years ago.

Los Angeles thoroughly controlled the pace – offensive rebounds were not their ex-factor this time around, but instead ball movement. Magic Johnson compiled an absurd 13/13/13 stat-line with four steals – he only attempted three shots total, but managed to have an irreplaceable impact on the club’s success. Such manipulation on team morale was unheard of.

Also enormous in this match were Bob McAdoo and Michael Cooper, who combined for thirty-two points off the bench. Not even Toney and Julius Erving’s determination could nullify the makings of such a complete adversary – they had been sent home empty-handed once more, paving the way for the Lakers’ eighth NBA championship.
The Los Angeles Lakers win the 1982 NBA championship!
Magic Johnson was named the Finals Most Valuable Player.

Awards

Notes
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 MVP
Buck WilliamsMoses MaloneMagic Johnson
Coach of the YearComeback Player of the Year
Gene ShueGus Williams

All-NBA

All-NBA First TeamAll-NBA Second Team
Gus Williams
George Gervin
Julius Erving
Larry Bird
Moses Malone
Magic Johnson
Sidney Moncrief
Bernard King
Alex English
Robert Parish

All-Defensive

All-Defensive First TeamAll-Defensive Second Team
Dennis Johnson
Michael Cooper
Dan Roundfield

Bobby Jones
Caldwell Jones
Quinn Buckner
Sidney Moncrief
Lonnie Shelton
Larry Bird
Jack Sikma

All-Stars

Eastern All-StarsWestern All-Stars
Tiny Archibald
Larry Bird
*
Julius Erving
Artis Gilmore
Bobby Jones
Bob Lanier
Sidney Moncrief
Robert Parish
Micheal Ray Richardson
Dan Roundfield
Isiah Thomas
Kelly Tripucka (IR)
Buck Williams
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Adrian Dantley

Alex English
George Gervin
Dennis Johnson
Magic Johnson
Bernard King
Moses Malone

Norm Nixon
Lonnie Shelton
Jack Sikma

Gus Williams
East beats West, 120-118

All-Rookie

All-Rookie Team
Jeff Ruland
Isiah Thomas
Kelly Tripucka
Jay Vincent
Buck Williams

All-Time Championship Leaderboard

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

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

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

1980, 1982
Warriors31947, 1956
1975
76ers21955, 1967
Knicks21970, 1973
Kings11951
Hawks11958
Bucks11971
Trail Blazers11977
Bullets11978
SuperSonics11979
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The NBA Time Machine: 1981

Published July 1, 2023

The NBA Time Machine:
1981


Cowboy Season

Done Deal, Dallas

The NBA had hit a point of significant growth, welcoming thirteen teams in the past fifteen years. Yet another owner was interested in expanding the league’s horizon – businessman Don Carter pitched a request to establish a franchise in Dallas, Texas. The primary inspiration for this decision was his wife, who loved basketball and encouraged the idea.

Voters officially admitted the Dallas Mavericks during the 1980 All-Star Game, preparing for a debut in the 1980-81 season. The name derived from the 50’s television series Maverick, which starred the successful actor – and now ownership member of the team – James Garner.

Kiki Vandeweghe, who led the UCLA Bruins to the 1980 NCAA Division I Finals, was selected by Dallas with the eleventh pick. The rookie refused to play for the team, largely influenced by his father’s disapproval of joining an non-established organization. As a result, he was traded to the Denver Nuggets a month into the season in return for a couple first-round draft picks.

The team, as expected, was largely awful in its inaugural run. Frequent losing – including fifteen straight dropped games from January to February – characterized their identity. Their sixty-seven losses was tied for the second-most in league history, only behind the pitiful 1973 Philadelphia 76ers.

Realignment

Due to the introduction of the Mavericks, the NBA reconsidered the construction of both conferences. Ultimately, the Houston Rockets and San Antonio Spurs joined their new inter-state rival in the Midwest Division of the Western Conference.

Conversely, the Milwaukee Bucks and Chicago Bulls joined nearby teams – such as the Detroit Pistons and Cleveland Cavaliers – in the Central Division of the Eastern Conference.

Not So Magic

After a strong start to the season – in which the Los Angeles Lakers went 15-5 – Magic Johnson tore the cartilage in his left knee and was sidelined for the majority of the season. This caused the sophomore to miss the All-Star Game and entirely stripped him of All-NBA eligibility, despite his all-around statistical improvements.

The guard returned in time for the last month of the season, in which his quality play continued. He managed to check into enough games to qualify for the steals title, which he won with a whopping 3.4 a game. However, Johnson’s reinstation frustrated some of his teammates – the spotlight was immediately on him again, and their labor over his three-month absence went unrecognized.

Regardless, the Lakers finished on an 11-6 run and clinched a playoff berth yet again.

Pacific Exchange

In surprising fashion, two inter-divisional rivals traded their franchise cornerstones for each other. The Seattle SuperSonics sent former Finals M.V.P. Dennis Johnson to the Phoenix Suns, receiving four-time All-Star Paul Westphal in return.

On paper, the deal was quality – Seattle would gain a premier scorer to bolster their offense, and Phoenix’s backcourt would see an immense improvement on defense. However, only the Suns truly benefited – Johnson helped them win a franchise record fifty-seven games, also seeing their first divisional championship.

On the contrary, Westphal missed forty-six matches to injuries and posted his worst production since joining the Suns five years ago. Seattle also missed the playoffs entirely, seemingly ending a brief reign that included three straight Conference Finals appearances and a championship.

Turn-Arounds

The NBA introduced the Comeback Player of the Year award, which was designated to a talent who showed out after a subpar season. It became the third seasonal award, and was inaugurally presented to Bernard King.

Trouble had accompanied the former first-round pick during his one-year stint with the Utah Jazz – he was arrested and suspended by the league for cocaine possession, missing sixty-three games. He was then followed by sexual assault charges off-the-court, entirely tearing apart his reputation. His combination of improvement in character and returning to quality play influenced his receival of the honor.


Standout Players

Julius Erving

While Erving’s statistical season wasn’t any different than usual, the 76ers broke the sixty-win barrier for the first time since the days of Wilt Chamberlain. The Doctor was there every step of the way, playing all eighty-two games in preparation for his first league M.V.P. award.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

Despite Magic Johnson missing over half of the year, Abdul-Jabbar maintained his composure. The reigning M.V.P. snatched his highest scoring average since 1977, and the Lakers still won fifty-eight games.

Larry Bird

A sophomore slump was not part of Bird’s plans. The Celtics superstar increased his assists average, stole the ball twice a game, and manifested a sixty-two win run. He finished in a narrow second place for the M.V.P. award.

Micheal Ray Richardson

Now in the media’s eye, Richardson continued fixing the damaged nature of New York City. Alongside Bill Cartwright, he brought the Knicks their first fifty-win campaign since 1973. The guard also led all players in steals once more.

Moses Malone

While the Rockets were subpar, Malone had the best statistical output of his career. He reached highs in scoring and blocks while also earning the rebounds title. Regardless of his supporting cast, the big man was unstoppable.

Artis Gilmore

Gilmore’s production regressed, but in good faith – he adjusted his role to make way for the breakout of teammate Reggie Theus. Gilmore’s sixty-seven percent from the field was the highest in the NBA, and he was still a top-tier shot blocker to boot. This contributed to Chicago’s first winning season and playoff berth in four years.


Around the League

Team Standings

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

Eastern Conference
Atlantic DivisionWLCentral DivisionWL
Boston Celtics*6220Milwaukee Bucks*6022
Philadelphia 76ers*6220Chicago Bulls*4537
New York Knicks*5032Indiana Pacers*4438
Washington Bullets3943Atlanta Hawks3151
New Jersey Nets2458Cleveland Cavaliers2854
Detroit Pistons2161
Western Conference
Midwest DivisionWLPacific DivisionWL
San Antonio Spurs*5230Phoenix Suns*5725
Kansas City Kings*4042Los Angeles Lakers*5428
Houston Rockets*4042Portland Trail Blazers*4537
Denver Nuggets3745Golden State Warriors3943
Utah Jazz2854San Diego Clippers3646
Dallas Mavericks1567Seattle SuperSonics3448

Fun Facts

  • The Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics tied for first place in the league, with sixty-two wins apiece.
    • Tiebreaker rules ultimately earned Boston leadership of the Atlantic Division.
  • Following the changes to the Midwest Division, it immediately became the weakest in the NBA.
    • Its only winning member was the San Antonio Spurs – no other team won over forty matches.
  • With Gus Williams holding out and injuries ravaging the roster, the Seattle SuperSonics worsened by twenty-two games and fell to the bottom of the Pacific Division.
  • The Milwaukee Bucks’ sixty wins was their most in eight years.
  • For the first time since joining the NBA, the Indiana Pacers achieved a winning record and became playoff eligible.
  • With David Thompson healthy, the Denver Nuggets posted the top-ranked offense in the league.
    • However, their defense was ranked at a pitiful twenty-second place, only above the expansion Dallas Mavericks team.

Notable Movement

Key

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

#TeamPlayer
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
Golden State Warriors
Utah Jazz
Boston Celtics
Chicago Bulls
Denver Nuggets
New Jersey Nets
New Jersey Nets
Philadelphia 76ers
San Diego Clippers
Portland Trail Blazers
Joe Barry Carroll
Darrell Griffith
Kevin McHale
Kelvin Ransey
James Ray
Mike O’Koren
Mike Gminski
Andrew Toney
Michael Brooks
Ronnie Lester

Players

DatePlayerTeamActionDestinationStats
June 4, 1980Paul WestphalPhoenix SunsTradedSeattle SuperSonics(21.9p/5.1a/1.5s)
June 4, 1980Dennis JohnsonSeattle SuperSonicsTradedPhoenix Suns(19p/5.1r/4.1a)
August 28, 1980Lloyd FreeSan Diego ClippersTradedGolden State Warriors(30.2p/3.5r/4.2a)

Other Personnel

DatePersonTeamActionStats
May 20, 1980Coach Paul WestheadLos Angeles LakersHiredRecord: n/a
May 21, 1980Coach Paul SilasSan Diego ClippersHiredRecord: n/a
May 27, 1980Coach Dick MottaWashington BulletsResignedRecord: 39-43
May 27, 1980Coach Gene ShueWashington BulletsHiredRecord: n/a
June 2, 1980Coach Jack McKinneyIndiana PacersHiredRecord: n/a
June 5, 1980Coach Scotty RobertsonDetroit PistonsHiredRecord: n/a
June 11, 1980Coach Bill MusselmanCleveland CavaliersHiredRecord: n/a
July 16, 1980Coach Dick MottaDallas MavericksHiredRecord: n/a
December 17, 1980Coach Donnie WalshDenver NuggetsFiredRecord: 11-20
December 17, 1980Coach Doug MoeDenver NuggetsAppointed (Interim)Record: 26-25
December 22, 1980Coach Kevin LougheryNew Jersey NetsResignedRecord: 12-23
December 22, 1980Coach Bob MacKinnonNew Jersey NetsAppointed (Interim)Record: 12-35
March 13, 1981Coach Bill MusselmanCleveland CavaliersReassignedRecord: 25-46
March 13, 1981Coach Don DelaneyCleveland CavaliersHiredRecord: 3-8
March 18, 1981Coach Larry BrownNew Jersey NetsHiredRecord: n/a
March 26, 1981Coach Hubie BrownAtlanta HawksFiredRecord: 31-48
March 26, 1981Coach Mike FratelloAtlanta HawksAppointed (Interim)Record: 0-3

Retirements

PlayerTeam(s)Notable Accomplishments
Rick BarryGolden State Warriors
Houston Rockets
1x Champion
1x Finals MVP
6x All-NBA
8x All-Star
1x All-Star Game MVP
1966 Rookie of the Year
1966 All-Rookie Team

1x Scoring Leader
1x Steals Leader
Walt FrazierNew York Knicks
Cleveland Cavaliers
2x Champion
6x All-NBA
7x All-Star
1x All-Star Game MVP
7x All-Defensive
1968 All-Rookie Team
Pete MaravichAtlanta Hawks
Utah Jazz
Boston Celtics
4x All-NBA
5x All-Star
1971 All-Rookie Team
1x Scoring Leader
Earl MonroeBaltimore Bullets
New York Knicks
1x Champion
1x All-NBA
4x All-Star
1968 Rookie of the Year
1968 All-Rookie Team
Charlie ScottPhoenix Suns
Boston Celtics

Los Angeles Lakers
Denver Nuggets
1x Champion
3x All-Star
Paul SilasAtlanta Hawks
Phoenix Suns
Boston Celtics

Denver Nuggets
Seattle SuperSonics
3x Champion
2x All-Star
5x All-Defensive

League Leaders

Key

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)

StatLeaders
PPGAdrian Dantley (30.6)
Moses Malone (27.8)
George Gervin (27.1)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (26.2)
David Thompson (25.5)
RPGMoses Malone (14.8)
Swen Nater (12.4)
Larry Smith (12.1)
Larry Bird (10.9)
Jack Sikma (10.4)
APGKevin Porter (9.1)
Norm Nixon (8.8)
Phil Ford (8.8)
Micheal Ray Richardson (7.9)
Tiny Archibald (7.7)
SPGMagic Johnson (3.4)
Micheal Ray Richardson (2.9)
Quinn Buckner (2.4)
Maurice Cheeks (2.4)
Ray Williams (2.3)
BPGGeorge Johnson (3.4)
Tree Rollins (2.9)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (2.9)
Robert Parish (2.6)
Artis Gilmore (2.4)
FG%Artis Gilmore (67%)
Darryl Dawkins (60%)
Cedric Maxwell (58%)
Bernard King (58%)
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (57%)
FT%Calvin Murphy (95%)
Ricky Sobers (93%)
Mike Newlin (88%)
Jim Spanarkel (88%)
Junior Bridgeman (88%)
3P%Brian Taylor (38%)
Freeman Williams (34%)
Joe Hassett (34%)
Mike Bratz (33%)
Henry Bibby (33%)

Playoffs

First Round

East / Chicago Bulls beat New York Knicks, 2-0
The guard-center tandem was predicted to be a significant selling point of this series. Reggie Theus vs. Micheal Ray Richardson, and Artis Gilmore vs. Bill Cartwright. This was also the first meeting between the two franchises, as Chicago was recently moved to the Eastern Conference.

An ugly scoring game was victorious for Chicago thanks to Ricky Sobers’ eighteen points off the bench. Cartwright seemed to be dealing with poor conditioning or a nagging injury, given his low minutes and usage. The New York center continued to struggle in Game 2, recording only nine points and five fouls in a one-point overtime loss. Conversely, Chicago’s Reggie Theus poured in thirty-seven points, eleven assists, and four steals to close out.
East / Philadelphia 76ers beat Indiana Pacers, 2-0
In Indiana’s first playoff appearance, they were faced with the tall ask of usurping the defending Eastern Conference Champions. It also proposed an interesting narrative of George McGinnis facing his former team for the first time in the playoffs.

The Pacers had no counter to Julius Erving’s bag of tricks, enabling him to average twenty-seven points in two blowout wins for the 76ers. Rookie Andrew Toney also had a phenomenal performance in Game 1, delivering fifteen points and eleven assists off the bench. Simply put, there was an unbreakable talent gap at play.
West / Houston Rockets beat Los Angeles Lakers, 2-1
On paper, this was easy pickings for Los Angeles. They were a deep, star-studded team that had outperformed Houston in the regular season. The Rockets may have had two great players in Moses Malone and Calvin Murphy, but that did not remotely compare to the likes of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, and more.

Unfazed by predictions, Houston pulled off a shocking upset loss on the road in which Malone dropped thirty-eight points. His heavy lifting – alongside some productive Murphy minutes – was enough to ward off a Lakers team with six double digit scorers. Los Angeles fought back with a road win of their own despite a near-perfect Malone game, only to flatten in Game 3.

Abdul-Jabbar, despite his high scoring, was inefficient and turnover-prone – Magic Johnson also had a terrible night, scoring ten points on two-for-fourteen shooting. What makes matters even more absurd is that the Rockets were just as putrid offensively – their win was truly because of Los Angeles’ complacency.


This was the biggest upset the post-season had seen in quite some time, and immediately opened up the Western Conference race.
West / Kansas City Kings beat Portland Trail Blazers, 2-1
Competition was tense from the start, with Game 1 going to overtime and ending in a one-point Kansas City victory. Otis Birdsong’s twenty-nine points was the catalyst for success, giving the Kings a promising advantage.

The second match saw yet another overtime, in which the Blazers rode Mychal Thompson’s forty-point outing. Portland’s offense was much less explosive in the tiebreaker – it was only sophomore Billy Ray Bates with a performance to remember, while the Kings benefited from five double-digit scorers.

Semifinals

East / Boston Celtics beat Chicago Bulls, 4-0
During their Eastern Conference conquest, the Bulls were up against the juggernaut Celtics next. They were outmatched in terms of depth, but Reggie Theus and Artis Gilmore entered the post-season with the right mentality to win.

Unfortunately, that bode out poorly for them. The Celtics demolished Chicago entirely, winning every match comfortably. They were simply too talented, and Larry Bird was unreal – he delivered a gaudy 24/17/10 stat-line in Game 3, and thirty-five points in the closing fourth match.
East / Philadelphia 76ers beat Milwaukee Bucks, 4-3
Two sixty-win teams guaranteed a fierce matchup. The 76ers and Bucks immediately ran to a 2-2 series tie, largely led by franchise stars Julius Erving and Marques Johnson. The latter was particularly lethal, averaging twenty-eight points per game in this stretch.

Philadelphia dished out a convincing blowout win in Game 5, and things finally looked to be in their favor. However, Mickey Johnson and Bob Lanier rooted Milwaukee in further success to prolong their year.

Despite Marques, Lanier, and Sidney Moncrief combining for seventy-nine points in Game 7, they still fell short to the 76ers. Twenty-eight points from Erving and twenty-one from Bobby Jones solidified their fourth Conference Finals appearance in the last five seasons.
West / Houston Rockets beat San Antonio Spurs, 4-3
In back-to-back years, San Antonio had to face their inter-state rival to advance in the playoffs. They seemed much more advantaged this time, coming off a great regular season – however, this Rockets team was clearly resilient. They had just knocked out the defending champions in the first round, and had an intoxicating amount of control over games.

The first four games were split even, with Game 2 featuring an uncanny duel between Houston’s Calvin Murphy and the Spurs’ Mark Olberding. Moses Malone was the more inconsistent of superstars between him and George Gervin – however, his thirty-four points and thirteen rebounds gave the Rockets a 3-2 series lead. San Antonio fought back in spite of his heroics in Game 6, which set up a seventh match.

Murphy was the star of the show, dropping forty-two efficient points to uphold Houston. They had now pulled off consecutive upsets, and it was beginning to look like they could take on anybody.
West / Kansas City Kings beat Phoenix Suns, 4-3
Coming off the best season in franchise history, Phoenix seemed primed for an easy series win. Kansas City was a good defensive team with some solid pieces all-around, but lacked the personnel quality of their foes.

Phoenix won Game 1 convincingly, profiting from an injury to Otis Birdsong that immediately dampened the Kings’ chances. However, they proceeded to drop three straight matches in baffling fashion as they fell to a 3-1 deficit. It was now up to them to compile an improbable comeback, which they inched towards with back-to-back wins.

Game 7 was anybody’s to take – Kansas City had proven their ability to win, but were also playing on the road. They took advantage of the Suns’ lifeless offense, jumping to a twelve-point lead by the fourth quarter. Dennis Johnson attempted to will his teammates into a late-game comeback, but they had already tapped out. The Kings closed out the series without their best player, setting up an unpredictable Conference Finals featuring them and the Houston Rockets.

Conference Finals

East / Boston Celtics beat Philadelphia 76ers, 4-3
In a rematch of last year’s Eastern Conference Finals, the historic rivals were both looking to exploit a potentially weak Finals matchup. Both of the Western teams were sturdy, but flawed – this could be their greatest shot at a championship.

After splitting the first two meetings, the 76ers jumped to a 3-1 lead in preparation for another Finals appearance. However, Larry Bird had other ideas – in the face of defeat, he scored fifty-seven points over the next two matches to force Game 7.

This was the fourth Game 7 of this year’s post-season, and was expected to be a rigid slugfest that would come down to the wire. Both teams’ superstars delivered, with Bird and Julius Erving dropping twenty-three points each. Boston rallied in the late stages of the game, fueled by Bird’s jump shooting and tough defense from him, Cedric Maxwell, and Robert Parish. After Maurice Cheeks missed a vital free throw, the 76ers failed to execute a late-game play and settled with a one-point loss.

In a fashion reminiscent of the 1968 Eastern Division Finals, the Celtics had overcome a 3-1 deficit to defeat Philadelphia and continue their search for a title.
West / Houston Rockets beat Kansas City Kings, 4-1
For the first time since 1957, two teams with losing records faced off in the final four. The outcome of this series was unforeseeable – the Rockets had upset two divisional champions, but Kansas City displayed the ability to win in spite of their biggest star’s absence.

The first two games were split, but Houston caught some much-needed victories to take a sizable lead. Moses Malone totaled forty-two points and twenty-three rebounds in Game 4, which was an offensive masterclass the Kings could not mirror. A healthy Birdsong was dearly missed, and it showed.

In Game 5, Malone served a thirty-six-point whooping to send Houston to their very first NBA Finals. The former M.V.P. was achieving the impossible, left with only one more adversary in his way.

Finals

Boston Celtics beat Houston Rockets, 4-2
The Celtics and Rockets had met in the past, but only in Semifinals rounds – as Houston was now a Western Conference team, this was the first Finals meet between the two. Boston was heavily favored, given their all-around better roster and interior presence. That could spell trouble for Moses Malone, who would have to fight especially hard to reach his typical production.

A near triple-double from Larry Bird opened up the series as Boston secured Game 1. Thirty-one Malone points tied the series, forcing the Celtics to respond on the road. Bird was quite awful offensively – only managing to score eight points – but a balanced team effort saved the green team. Houston refused to give up, backpacking off Mike Dunleavy’s twenty-eight points to establish a 2-2 tie.

Game 5 was all about Cedric Maxwell, who masked yet another mediocre exhibit from Bird with twenty-eight points and fifteen rebounds of his own. Houston could stay in the race with a win at home, which they failed to accomplish. Fifty combined points from Robert Reid and Malone was not enough to spoil Bird’s resurgence – the Celtics forward bounced back with twenty-seven points and thirteen rebounds, sealing the championship run in clutch fashion.

Maxwell was rendered as the Finals MVP favorite, stepping up big in moments where Bird failed to deliver. His scoring average of nineteen in Boston’s wins outshined Bird’s sixteen, which influenced voters.


Regardless of media awards, though, one thing was true – the Celtics’ historical dominance was unparalleled, managing their fourteenth championship in thirty-five years of existence.
The Boston Celtics win the 1981 NBA championship!
Cedric Maxwell was named the Finals Most Valuable Player.

Awards

Notes
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 MVP
Darrell GriffithJulius ErvingCedric Maxwell
Coach of the YearComeback Player of the Year
Jack McKinneyBernard King

All-NBA

All-NBA First TeamAll-NBA Second Team
Dennis Johnson
George Gervin
Julius Erving
Larry Bird
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Tiny Archibald
Otis Birdsong
Adrian Dantley
Marques Johnson
Moses Malone

All-Defensive

All-Defensive First TeamAll-Defensive Second Team
Dennis Johnson
Micheal Ray Richardson
Bobby Jones

Caldwell Jones
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Quinn Buckner
Dudley Bradley
Michael Cooper
Dan Roundfield

Kermit Washington
George Johnson

All-Stars

Eastern All-StarsWestern All-Stars
Tiny Archibald*
Larry Bird
Julius Erving
Artis Gilmore
Eddie Johnson
Marques Johnson
Bobby Jones
Mike Mitchell
(IR)
Robert Parish
Micheal Ray Richardson
Dan Roundfield
Reggie Theus
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
Otis Birdsong
Adrian Dantley
Walter Davis

George Gervin
Dennis Johnson
Moses Malone
Truck Robinson
Jack Sikma
Paul Westphal
Jamaal Wilkes
East beats West, 123-120

All-Rookie

All-Rookie Team
Joe Barry Carroll
Darrell Griffith
Kevin McHale
Kelvin Ransey
Larry Smith

All-Time Championship Leaderboard

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

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

1976, 1981
Lakers71949, 1950
1952, 1953
1954, 1972

1980
Warriors31947, 1956
1975
76ers21955, 1967
Knicks21970, 1973
Kings11951
Hawks11958
Bucks11971
Trail Blazers11977
Bullets11978
SuperSonics11979