"What position did I play?" he said. "Well, I played center, a little forward, some guard. I tried to think up a name for it, but the best I came up with was C-F-G Rover." Which means that a rookie three years out of high school played one of the greatest games in NBA playoff history at all five positions—center, point guard, shooting guard, small forward and power forward.
So stunning was Magic's performance that it somewhat eclipsed a brilliant team effort, just as Abdul-Jabbar has eclipsed so many of his teammates—Magic being the latest—over the years. Jamaal Wilkes happened to play his best game ever—including any in his championship season at Golden State in 1975—with 37 points and 10 rebounds. Chones had 11 points, added 10 rebounds and held Dawkins to 14 and four. Landsberger picked off 10 rebounds in 19 minutes, Cooper scored 16 points, and Brad Holland, usually a mop-up guy, scored eight very big ones. The Lakers ran Philadelphia near to death and outrebounded the 76ers 52-36—without Kareem, mind you—to finish the series with a devastating rebound advantage of 308-223.
"Before the game," said Wilkes, "I thought our chances of winning were 10% to 15%. But it's gratifying to be able to show the country that this is a great team, even without Kareem."
"It was amazing, just amazing," said Erving, with 27 points the only 76er to play anything approaching a decent game. "We went over everything they do when Kareem's not there, and still we couldn't do anything about it. They wanted to show us they were not a one-man team and got maximum effort. Magic was outstanding. Unreal." Doug Collins, the 76ers' former All-Pro guard, who missed the playoffs with a knee injury, couldn't get over Magic. "I knew he was good but I never realized he was great," said Collins. "You don't realize it because he gives up so much of himself for Kareem."
In 1977, the year most of these same 76ers lost the NBA championship to Portland, Johnson was leading Lansing's Everett High School to the Michigan Class A championship. A year later he turned Michigan State from a 10-17 doormat to an NCAA regional finalist. And in 1979 as a-sophomore he took the Spartans to the national championship and was the tournament MVP. Now, one year after that, he single-handedly wins the final game of the NBA championship and is voted the Most Valuable Player of the playoffs.
"Magic thinks every season goes like that," said interim Laker Coach Paul Westhead. "You play some games, win the title and get named MVP."
The issue of MVP—decided by seven writers and broadcasters—was a touchy one among the Lakers. Virtually everyone agreed that the rightful recipient should have been Abdul-Jabbar, that the MVP was a bone thrown to Johnson because he will finish second to Boston's Larry Bird as Rookie of the Year—which, in the light of Magic's playoff performance, will forever seem ridiculous—while Abdul-Jabbar will win his sixth regular-season MVP award.
One thing certain is that Johnson wouldn't have had the chance to do what he did in Game 6 were it not for Abdul-Jabbar's performance—and injury—in Game 5. The Lakers led by two when Kareem wrenched his left ankle with four minutes left in the third quarter and hobbled to the dressing room. Johnson, who had had a desultory game at that point, ignited a Laker blitz, scoring six and assisting for two of the next 12 points to expand the lead to eight. He would finish with 14 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists. But it was Abdul-Jabbar, hobbling back to a thunderous ovation in the fourth quarter, who won the game, scoring 14 of his 40 points on the bad ankle, including a three-point play with 33 seconds left to break a 103-103 tie.
Despite the victory, the atmosphere in the Forum was grim. Kareem was rushed out for X rays—a fracture was feared. His last words to the team were, "We got three. We only need one more now."
The next morning the newspapers reported that the X rays were negative, so the Lakers were shocked when they arrived at the airport for the flight to Philadelphia and learned that Abdul-Jabbar wouldn't be going with them.