Welcome to Total Recall, a new feature here at Bulls by the Horns. I’ll be your driver for this weekly stroll through NBA history, using YouTube to marvel, examine, question and laugh at the players, teams and trends that formed the backbone of the league we love today.
Born in 1991 I have as many memories of Larry Bird watching Pacers games in a suit, Magic Johnson dispensing head-scratching basketball analysis, and Michael Jordan in Hanes commercials with an awful mustache as I do memories of them being pillars of some of the game’s greatest dynasties. So I want to emphasize that this is an exploratory project and intended to form a community discussion. Feel free to chime in with observations or corrections.
Speaking of Bird and Magic, the series will start with their rookie years in the 1979-1980 season. It functions as a good starting point as it was the debut year for not just the most famous rivalry in NBA history, but the three-point line as well. Beginning with the 80s also doesn’t ignore any significant dynasties. Eight teams won a championship in the 70s with no back to back championships while just nine franchises have combined to win the next 34 titles with 11 repeat champions during that span.
Before starting with games next week, let’s set the table by looking at the landscape of the league. The 78-79 season culminated with my hometown Seattle SuperSonics (/sheds tear) avenging their Game 7 loss at home to the Bullets in the 1978 Finals by beating them in five games to claim Seattle’s lone championship in a major sport. Seattle got past Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s Lakers 4-1 in the Conference Semifinals, though all five games were close and two went to overtime. The Sonics then survived a Conference Finals that went the distance versus Paul Westphal, Walter Davis, and the Suns before beating the Bullets to win the title.
Abdul-Jabbar- who posted 23.8 PPG (8th), 12.8 RPG (3rd), 5.4 APG (15th), 4.0 BPG (1st), and was 2nd in FG%, 4th in MPG, 1st in PER, 4th in TS%, 2nd in EFG%, and 1st in WS- had an amazing season but lost to Seattle in the playoffs for the second year in a row. In addition to this, he finished a very distant fourth in MVP voting to Houston’s Moses Malone (24.8 PPG-5th, 17.6 RPG-1st, 1.8 APG, 1st in MPG, 3rd in PER, 7th in TS%, 13th in EFG%, 2nd in WS), according to The Association for Professional Basketball Research.
Los Angeles might have won 47 games the previous year, but thanks to compensation for Gail Goodrich signing with Utah years prior, they were gifted with the first pick. They, of course, used that pick on Magic Johnson, and while he was the only Hall of Famer from the 1979 draft, it did end up with eight All-Stars. Five of them were picked among the first dozen picks with Bill Laimbeer selected in the third round by Cleveland. This draft would deliver four Defensive Player of the Year Awards, with 5th pick Sidney Moncrief winning the very first DPOY in 1983. He would repeat in 1984 and fifth round pick Mark Eaton also won two that decade.
Notable moves in free agency:
-Washington signed 3-time assist champion Kevin Porter at the price of two first round picks going to Detroit as compensation.
-In return for signing M.L. Carr, Boston traded 5-time All-Star Bob McAdoo to Detroit and also received a pair of first round picks as part of the transaction.
-The Lakers traded a young Adrian Dantley to Utah to get big man Spencer Haywood. Dantley would go on to make six All-Star teams in his seven seasons in Utah… and work as a crossing guard.
-Los Angeles continued to beef up their front line, acquiring Jim Chones from Cleveland via trade.
-The San Diego Clippers acquired Joe Bryant, Kobe’s dad, from Philly for a pick that would end up as the top pick in 1986. 18 year old Isiah Thomas reportedly loved this trade.
Next week: A big debut, a balding scorer nearly drops 50 and getting used to young Brent Musberger.