Few would take you seriously if you were in a writer’s room and suggested that a rookie win NBA Finals MVP. But the truth is stranger than fiction.
Fans caught up on HBO’s Winning Time: The Rise of the Lakers Dynasty saw the first season’s finale last night. The episode showed what happened at the end of the 1979-80 season. Johnson, who was named as an All-Star starter during his first year in the league, lost out on Rookie of the Year honors to rival Larry Bird.
The Lakers, however, went on to win the Western Conference. Meanwhile, Bird’s Celtics were defeated by Julius Erving’s 76ers in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Los Angeles took an early advantage in the NBA Finals, but Lakers superstar big man Kareem Abdul-Jabbar suffered an injury in Game 5. Johnson, who had played point guard all season, was tasked to replace the captain of the Purple and Gold as the starting center.
Absurd though it sounds, the first-year player had 42 points to go with 15 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals in Game 6. Los Angeles would win the game, and Johnson, a rookie, was named NBA Finals MVP.
He became the third player to win an NCAA title and NBA title in back-to-back years. He was also the first and only rookie to win the NBA Finals MVP award.
Johnson would go on to win two more NBA Finals MVP awards before his professional career was over. He was a five-time NBA champion during his time in the league.
Winning Time was recently picked up for a second season on HBO. To read our interview with Adrien Brody, who portrayed Pat Riley, click here. For our conversation with Jason Segel, who depicted Paul Westhead, click here.