A friend posted a video clip of his favorite basketball play ever on his Facebook page, and invited others to do the same. It made me curious if mine was online, so I did a quick search on YouTube for, “Magic no look pass nobody Portland.” The play I was looking for was the first to pop up. (The Internet is an amazing place.)
It’s from Game 7 of the 1991 Western Conference Finals between my Los Angeles Lakers and the Portland Trail Blazers. There’s 12 seconds left. The series is tied 3-3. The winner will go on to play the Chicago Bulls, Michael Jordan’s first NBA Finals. The Lakers are up by one. Portland is inbounding the ball. Portland gets the ball to Terry Porter for a jumper to win. He misses.
Magic Johnson rebounds the ball with two seconds left. The only thing Portland can do at this point is foul. Magic is very good at shooting free throws — he made over 90 percent of them that season — but even if he makes both of them, Portland would have a chance to advance the ball to half court and get a three off to tie the game. Three seconds is all the time in the world.
What happens next is still clearly emblazoned in my brain, as it showed Magic’s preternatural brilliance as a basketball player. As soon as Magic gets the rebound, he throws a cross-court, no-look pass over his head. To nobody. The ball slowly trickles out of bounds on the opposite side of the court with 0.1 seconds left on the clock. The game is sealed. Now there’s no way for Portland to come back.
If you look at the other players from both teams in that first split second, they have no idea what Magic has done. Then they see the ball trickle out of bounds, and stunned realization spreads across their faces.
Who even thinks of doing anything like this? I’ve never seen anything like it since.
In retrospect, that game was loaded with history. It was Magic’s first season playing without Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Pat Riley. (Hello, Vlade Divac and Mike Dunleavy.) It would be his last playoff series win ever, as he and Byron Scott would bow out of the next series with injuries, allowing Michael Jordan to win his first NBA championship. (That’s right, I said it. Allowing.) The following year, he would make his stunning announcement that he had HIV and would be retiring immediately.
I can’t believe that game was almost 30 years ago. I can remember it like it was yesterday, and I love that this clip is on YouTube.
In other hoops news, ESPN just announced that its 10-part documentary on Jordan’s last championship season, The Last Dance, will now debut in April instead of June, thanks to everyone being cooped up inside without any sports to watch. That was only 22 years ago, and I can also remember that series like it was yesterday. Damn, I’m old.