Rivaling the 1960s decade, the '80s were full of immensely-talented players who dominated the hardwood.
So, who gets the nod to be my starting five from such a great era? Let’s take a look:
*Note: Julius Erving will be moved to shooting guard to make room for both he and Larry Bird to be in the starting five*
Point Guard: Magic Johnson, L.A. Lakers
Stats (80’s only): 19.9 PPG, 11.7 APG, 7.3 RPG, 2.0 SPG, 8x NBA All-Star, 3x NBA MVP, 4x NBA Champion*
Earvin Johnson, Jr. first earned the nickname “Magic” when he was playing ball at Everett High School as a 15-year-old sophomore. Johnson was given the nickname after he recorded a triple-double of 36 points, 18 rebounds, and 16 assists.
Teamed with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic won five titles and led the Lakers back to prominence in the Western Conference.
During his career, Johnson had many battles against the Boston Celtics in the finals, led by Larry Bird (whose name you might just hear coming up…).
*Johnson’s championship from the 1979-80 season is not counted in the stats because the season started in the '70s, and is not considered part of this decade.
Shooting Guard: Julius Erving, Philadelphia 76ers
Stats ('80s only): 21.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 3.7 APG, 1.7 SPG, 1.6 BPG, 7x NBA All-Star, 1980-81 NBA MVP, 1982-83 NBA Champion
This was far and away the toughest decision I had to make. It was between Julius Erving and Isiah Thomas for this spot, and when you have to leave one of them off the list, you know you have a good team.
When it came down to it, Erving got the nod because of three letters: MVP.
“Dr. J” ended up becoming a Philadelphia 76er in a very odd way:
Once they moved from the ABA to the NBA, the New York Nets got blindsided by a $4.8 million fee from the Knicks for “invading” their territory, this only shortly after the Nets had to pay $3 million to join the NBA. This left them short on cash, and unable to follow through on the pay raise they promised to their star player, Julius Erving.
Erving refused to play for them under those conditions, and his contract was sold to the 76ers.
After the 1981-’82 NBA Finals left a bitter taste in Erving’s mouth when his 76ers lost to the L.A. Lakers, he was able to follow right up with a championship the very next year, blanking that same Laker team, four games to none.
Small Forward: Larry Bird, Boston Celtics
Stats ('80s only): 25.3 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 6.5 APG, 1.8 SPG, 9x NBA All-Star, 3x NBA MVP, 3x NBA Champion
This was another position that was tough to choose from, with the classic debate of Bird vs. Wilkins. But ultimately, the winner of the playoff matchups ended up being the winner for my starting spot.
Larry Bird is still considered by many to be the best shooter in the history of the game, and one of the first to rely on the three-point shot.
After the 1985-86 season, Bird also became only the third player to win three-consecutive MVP awards, joining Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain.
That year was also Bird’s last title, and a year in which he was fortunate enough to play with a frontcourt that consisted of Kevin McHale, Robert Parish, and backup Bill Walton.
Power Forward: Kevin McHale, Boston Celtics
Stats ('80s only): 18.7 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.8 BPG, 6x NBA All-Star, 3x NBA Champion
Tough spot here. Do I slide Moses Malone to power forward, and put Hakeem the Dream at center? Or do I stick with Malone at center and put Kevin McHale at power forward?
Well, since both of Hakeem’s championship rings, his lone MVP award, and six of his 12 All-Star appearances came in the '90s (hint, hint), I figured he should be left off the '80s team.
That being said, Kevin McHale was no slouch of a player either.
He played for the historic “Sweet Sixteen” Celtics team. They were not named for the number of players, in case you were wondering. They were named that because they brought Boston its 16th championship banner.
That team is considered by some to be the best team in NBA history, consisting of stars like McHale, Larry Bird, Robert Parish, Bill Walton, and Dennis Johnson.
That season, McHale played at his highest level yet, averaging over 20 PPG for the first time in his career, to go along with 8.1 RPG.
His success as a player, unfortunately, did not pave the way for success as an executive, as is well documented by any and all Minnesota Timberwolves fans.
Center: Moses Malone, Houston Rockets/Philadelphia 76ers/Washington Bullets/Atlanta Hawks
Stats ('80s only): 23.8 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 1.4 BPG, 8x NBA All-Star, 2x NBA MVP, 1982-83 NBA Champion
Most consider Moses Malone to be the original high school-to-NBA player. While this is not entirely true, it is safe to say that he was the first successful player to make the jump.
The four who entered the draft straight from high school before Malone were:
· Tony Kappen, 1946
· Connie Simmons, 1946
· Joe Graboskie, 1948
· Reggie Harding, 1963
Between them, the four combined for a grand total of zero All-Star appearances.
During the 1977-78 season, Malone became the first player in the NBA All-Star game to come straight out of high school.
*Note: If you’re about to write a nasty comment about how I don’t know my facts because Malone played in an All-Star game during the 1974-75 season, keep in mind that was with the ABA, not the NBA.
Malone was also a dominant player during the 1980s, becoming the only NBA player ever to win back-to-back MVP awards for two different teams (’81-82 with Houston, ’82-83 with Philadelphia).
And that wraps up my NBA All-80’s team. Tomorrow, the All-'90s team will be unveiled, which should be nice for the readers who weren’t around to remember these past few teams.
P.S. For those of you expecting to see a certain guard with the initials “M.J.”, I though it unjust to put him in a decade where he had not yet won any of his six championship rings. Look for him in the '90s.
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