With their Sky Hook grounded 3,000 miles away, the Los Angeles Lakers reached into their inexhaustable supply of Magic tonight and discovered the Sly Hook.
What else to describe that over-the-shoulder toss Magic Johnson sailed past Julius Erving for the final field goal of the first quarter? How better to explain why the Lakers won the NBA title tonight with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar sitting in his living room?
The Labdul-Jabbars, we have called them, as we often referred to perhaps the greatest collegiate teams as LEWcla. It is that way for any team graced with arguably the most dominant player of his generation.
For one game, though, sometimes we get a touch of magic, inspiration from one or two other leaders, that will carry spear carriers to unimagined brilliance and forces an otherwise superior team to quit.
Without Kareem, the Lakers creamed the Philadelphia 76ers. With a lead guard, Magic, playing center -- or just about anywhere he chose -- the Lakers pulled off an upset many rational NBA insiders judged impossible.
Impossible? A 20-year-old rookie made it look easy. Pressure? The most infectious smile in sport followed the most clever mind and most nimble hands in basketball to as fine a performance in as dramatic a game as can be imagined.
And when his work had ended, when he had made the final free throws and his numbers stopped with 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists, Magic grabbed reserve Butch Lee, spun him around and yelled.
The Sixers and their fans had that feeling, too, though the expression came from sour and bewildered faces. Much of the crowd that stayed to the end, the part that had not given up with their team the final few minutes, sat still for nearly a half hour, almost dumbfounded.
How had it happened?
It began with Magic, who, the basketball world finally has begun to realize, can dominate his sport in ways once thought impossible. In his own fashion, he is Jabbar-like. The best way to explain this is with a question.
Imagine the nonpareil Celtics with Bill Russell suddenly out with a lame leg.Imagine Bob Cousy being told to play center, to try for the opening tip, in fact. Who would win? Exactly. Almost any team worthy of being called professional.
But Magic is the most special player to hit the NBA since Adbul-Jabbar. He has taken the game to a higher plateau, shown us the staggering possibilities of a man being able to play every position on the court.
Yes, at 6-feet-9 he is two inches taller than Wes Unseld. But could Unseld play point guard, bring the ball upcourt even without reasonably good defenders clawing at the ball? Hardly. Tonight Magic literally did it all -- and became the third man ever to leap immediately from an NCAA champion to a team that won the NBA title. (The others were Henry Bibby and Bill Russell.)
"You can't compare the NCAA to this," the former Michigan State star screamed later in the dressing room. "The NBA is the best in the world. There's nothing better than the NBA champions."
He added, in reply to a question about any team doubt with Adbul-Jabbar unavailable:
"I'm a winner. I don't go into any game thinking we're not gonna win. Kareem brought us here. And to win it without Our Man The Man, The Man of the team . . ." His voice trailed off, but he quickly caught it and said:
"I love pressure."
He surely does. Lots of fans were intrigued before the game by the magic expressions possible from a Magic with no one to intrude on his skills. But few expected more than his generating considerable excitement and the Lakers eventually being no more threat to the Sixers this night than Freddie Laker is to the major airlines.
Magic lost the center jump -- by a foot -- to Caldwell Jones. But with little time to consider a full game without Adbul-Jabbar, the Lakers mustered their second-best quarter of the championship series. They were ahead by three at the quarter and tied with the Sixers at the half.
Surely, most everyone thought, the Sixers will regroup and leave the Lakers in their sawdust the second half. They will realize their embarrassment, correct their mistakes, finally force themselves into taking a decent shot instead of the first shot.
That theory was shot full of holes of few seconds into the third period, when Magic took Maurice Cheeks into tall man's land and easily shot over him for a basket. And he was well on his way to showing that a 22-point, eight-rebound first half was little more than a warmup.
The Lakers scored the first 14 points of the second half -- and Johnson either scored or assisted on 10 of them. The Sixers were going Deep Six.
There was one hope: Bobby Jones. With Jones on Johnson the Sixers had a chance to win. The taller Jones could keep the ball elsewhere. And without it even Magic disappears.
But the Lakers were wonderfully inventive tonight. They could play exceptionally without Abdul-Jabbar; they could play well with Magic suddenly reduced to being almost mortal. This was possible because Jamaal Wilkes scored 25 points in the second half, including the three-point play with 3:55 left that made even the most devoted Sixer fan consider doom inevitable.
This was a magical series, in part, because the unexpected kept becoming ordinary, because one team made all the adjustments under the greatest possible duress and the other refused to take advantage of an absolute gift.
Everyone realized before the series started that Abdul-Jabbar would be named most valuable player if the Lakers won. In fact, the magazine that decides that had his name typed on a release prepared before this game.
In the postgame announcement, Abdul-Jabbar's name was scratched out and Magic's written over it. Tonight one of the NBA's newest stars had become it brightest.