The Los Angeles Lakers rode the magical wings of sensational rookie Earvin Johnson all the way to The National Basketball Association championship tonight as they stunned the Philadelphia 76ers, 123-107, at the Spectrum to win the series, four games to two.
Even with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar back home in Los Angeles nursing the sore left ankle he sprained in the fifth game of the series Wednesday at the Forum, the undermanned Lakers outplayed the 76ers all evening in pulling off an impressive upset to win their first NBA crown since 1971-72.
The wondrous Johnson scored a career-high 42 points and added 15 rebounds, seven assists, three steals and a blocked shot.
"I don't even know if Kareem could have done things Magic did tonight," said the Sixers' Julius Erving. "The kid's a player."
Jamaal Wilkes added 37 points and 10 rebounds and, even without Abdul-Jabbar, the Lakers destroyed the 76ers on the boards, 52-36.
Johnson's performance was even more remarkable considering that he played center much of the game, a position he had not played except for three minutes when Abdul-Jabbar was first hurt Wednesday.
Before the game was over, Johnson had played center, guard and forward -- and dominated the game at all three positions. He played them with both style and a smile.
"He just plays basketball," said Pat Riley, Laker assistant coach. "There's no such thing as a position for him. He will probably turn out to be the greatest player in the history of basketball and I'm not just saying that because of what he did tonight."
Johnson scored on Abdul-Jabbar-like sky hooks, jump shots, spin moves and dunks. He was also 14 for 14 from the foul line.
In other words, he was unstoppable. The 76ers started with Erving covering him, but before the game was over, Johnson had gone through the Doctor, Bobby Jones, Steve Mix, Caldwell Jones and Lionel Hollins.
"I think everyone thought I was a little tipsy when I first said Magic was going to play center," Laker Coach Paul Westhead said. "But I knew what he could do. He's Houdini. What he did tonight was no accident."
Without Abdul-Jabbar, the Lakers started wiry sixth man Michael Cooper at guard and moved Johnson inside.
Mark Landsberger then became the sixth man and Brad Holland, who had played only four minutes in the previous five games, came off the bench with eight points in nine minutes and didn't hurt the team at all when he was on the floor.
The Lakers started the game with a 7-0 spurt and the 76ers were left to play catch-up virtually the entire game.
"We were just faster than them and we tried to run them into the ground," said guard Norm Nixon.
"It was important for us to set the tempo early and sustain it," said Jim Chones, who had 11 points and 10 rebounds while holding Darryl Dawkins to 14 points and four rebounds.
"It was just a question of who was going to give in first and it wasn't us."
Erving, who finished with 27 points, scored two of them in the first period and the 76ers were down by only three at the end of the quarter, 32-29.
Johnson already had 13 points and Wilkes 10.
The 76ers ran off a 9-0 run early in the second period to lead 38-35, with 8:35 left in the half.
Later in the period, with the score tied at 44-44, Steve Mix and Erving led the 76ers on a 9-0 spurt and it looked like there was going to be a seventh game. But Johnson, Wilkes, Cooper and Hollins used their speed and the fast break to get the Lakers back in the game and tie the score at 60-60 as the half ended.
"When we went in tied at halftime we knew we had them," said Johnson. "We couldn't wait for the next quarter to start."
Johnson scored on a baseline jumper to start the third period and followed that with two fantastic passes which resulted in layups for Cooper and Wilkes.
The Lakers went on to outscore the 76ers, 14-0, and take a 74-60 lead with 8:27 left in the quarter. In that stretch, Johnson had four points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Wilkes, who was firing away from 20 feet, had 16 of his points in the third quarter and the Lakers took a 10-point advantage, 93-83, into the final quarter.
"I was looking to shoot all night," said Wilkes, who put up 30 shots, making 16 of them. "Coach told me to shoot until my arm fell off."
The 76ers started their run early in the fourth quarter. Three straight baskets by Erving cut the lead to four points at 97-93 with 8:05 left, but the Doctor never scored again.
A Bobby Jones drive cut the lead to 103-101 with 5:11 to play, but Johnson scored on a tap-in, and, after an Erving miss, Wilkes scored on a three point play against Caldwell Jones to open the lead to 108-101 with 3:55 left.
Cheeks cut the lead to five with 3:15 to go, but Johnson scored a three-point play on a layup and was fouled by Erving.
The play was set up when Nixon intercepted an Erving outlet pass after Wilkes had missed a jump shot.
Dawkins then missed badly with a 16-footer and Johnson scored on a drive. Bobby Jones missed at the 76er end and Wilkes drilled an 18-footer to put the Lakers up, 115-103, with 1:21 to go.
"I think Philly thought we'd come in here and play dead without the big guy," said Wilkes, "but there was no way that was going to happen."
"It's hard to believe that we lost," said Erving. "They gave us the 15-footers, but we tried to force through their defense and made too many mistakes."
"It's ironic we won this thing without Kareem," said Westhead. "He taught us how to win so well that we outdid him. He's smiling back home, though, because he knows he got us here."
Johnson was voted the series most valuable player and last season he was the most valuable player in the NCAA championships as he led Michigan State to the national title.
"If Kareem were here I wouldn't have won the MVP award because I wouldn't have had to do all of the things he does." Johnson said. "But since he wasn't here, I said, "what the heck."