Pre-1980 the Los Angeles Lakers hadn’t even been to the NBA Finals since their last NBA Championship in 1972. They got to the Western Conference Finals, but lost to the Seattle Sonics. As great as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was who is the greatest center of all-time if not the greatest player of all-time, the Lakers needed another great player to complement Kareem. Jamal Wilkes, was a very good player and even an all-star caliber player, but he wasn’t a great dominant franchise player. And that is what General Manager Jerry West and the Lakers went after during the 1979 offseason after again being eliminated by the Sonics. That other great player that would complement Kareem and make the Lakers champions again.
Not sure how the Lakers who were 47-35 and had the fifth best record in the Western Conference in 1979 were able to get the number one draft pick in 1979, but that is how they got that great franchise caliber player who could complement Kareem. Drafting Magic Johnson in 1979 was like making a trade for a great franchise player whose in the prime of his career, but perhaps now stuck playing for bad teams. Or making a great free agent signing of the best player in the game that puts you on top for winning the championship. Magic didn’t revitalize, or rebuild the Lakers. What he did was go to an already a pretty good team that was already a Western Conference contender and made them an NBA Championship caliber team.
So when the Lakers met the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1980 NBA Finals it was a Finals between two very good if not great teams. The Lakers had Kareem, Magic, Jamal Wilkes and a whole host of great role players like Michael Cooper and Jim Chones. The 76ers had Julius Erving, arguably the best all around player in the game at this point. But they didn’t have a great big man, or even an all-star big man who could deal with Kareem and make Kareem work on defense and keep him honest, Darryl Dawkins was a great talent and at times a very good player, but not very consistent. Caldwell Jones was a very good defensive big man and rebounder, but an occasional scorer. Which left the 76ers with Dr. J and a whole host of role players. Going up against a team that had perhaps the two best players in the league, at least in the NBA Finals in Kareem and Magic.