When the Los Angeles Lakers boarded the team bus on the way to the Spectrum Friday night, Earvin (Majic) Johnson plopped down in the first seat, the one customarily reserved for Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
When the Lakers got to the Spectrum, Johnson headed for the first dressing cubicle, the one that is always taken by Abdul-Jabbar.
The Magic smile came across his face and Johnson said, "If I'm going to play for The Man, I'm going to act like The Man."
So, with Abdul-Jabbar back in Los Angeles nursing his sprained ankle, Johnson, a 6-foot-9, 20-year-old rookie guard, played center in the Lakers' most important game of the season. When it was over, he proved that, at least on that night, he was the man.
Johnson turned in one of the most incredible all-around performances ever in a championship series, leading the Lakers to a stunning 123-107 victory over philadelphia for in the National Basketball Association championship. The Lakers won the series, 4-2.
Johnson scored a career-high 42 points, grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds and added seven assists and three steals.
"What's this?" Pat Riley, the assistant coach, yelled across the dressing room at Johnson as champagne flowed everywhere. "You got only one blocked shot. What kind of center are you, anyway?"
Johnson is not a center. He isn't even a guard or a forward, for that matter. He's simply a basketball player, perhaps the prototype of the player of the future.
He has no set position. He plays the game and is accomplished at all its skills, both tangible and intangible. He rebounds, shoots, passes, dribbles and is a natural leader, and, obviously, a born winner.
On a foreign court, without their best player, with a 20-year-old rookie guard playing center, with no bench to speak of, and against a team that possesses Julius (Dr. J) Erving, the Lakers prevailed.
"We didn't have any time to practice with Magic at center," Riley said. "We just told them if they got in trouble to look for Magic."
Said Coach Paul Westfield: "When I told Magic he was going to play center, I said it with a smile. His eyes got big and he smiled back. 'I got i wired, coach,' was all he said. I never told him what to do or how to play the position. You never tell a magician what tricks to perform."
Johnson was designated as the center but he played everywhere, handling the ball at least once on practically every Los Angeles possession.
Of his 14 field goals on 23 attempts, he made one six-footer from the left side, a 20-footer from the top of the key, two 18-footers from the right side, three three-point plays on inside moves, one sky hook, three baskets after he got offensive rebounds, one twisting reverse layup and two baskets after he got offensive rebounds and drove the length of the floor for layups.
He also was 14 for 14 from the foul line.
Johnson's most incredible streak came at the beginning of the third period when the Lakers outscored the 76ers, 14-0, to break a 60-60 halftime tie.
Johnson had four points, three assists, three rebounds and two steals in those 3 1/2 minutes span. He had a hand in every one of those 14 points.
Johnson started the streak with a baseline jump shot and followed that with two brilliant passes that resulted in layups for Jamaal Wilkes, who scored 37 points, and Michael Cooper.
Johnson rebounded a 76er miss to set up a Cooper jump shot. He rebounded another Philadelphia miss to set up Wilkes for another basket. Then Johnson scored on an 18-footer and fed Wilkes with a 40-foot pass for a layup to end the 14-0 run.
When the game was on the line again midway in the fourth period -- the Lakers led by two -- Johnson took over again. He out battled 6-11 Darryl Dawkins and 7-1 Caldwell Jones for two straight offensive rebounds before scoring for a 105-101 lead. Then he grabbed the rebound after Bobby Jones missed at the other end and fed Wilkes for an eventual three-point play to seal the victory, 108-101.
All of the Lakers acknowledged Abdul-Jabbar's importance, even though he wasn't present on his team's biggest night.
"We never would have gotten this far without Kareem. We know it and he knows it," Westhead said.
"I feel a little sad, even i the midst of all this joy because Kareem isn't here," Riley said. "But this is his team. He made us winners and he taught us how to win without him."
"I was the most valuable player and all of that and I'm glad, but let's be serious," Johnson said. "Kareem is still The Man and I love him. I was just trying to do what he does.
"I knew I had to score more for us to win and I tried to create the opportunities for both myself and for the team. Some people think I'm a hotdog, because I smile and have fun all the time, but I'm not.
"I come to play every game and I give my all. I get the job done the best way I can and make sure I have fun doing it.
"It wasn't hard playing center, but it was hard being Kareem. I had to add my own personal touch to pull it off."
The Magic touch.