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The NBA’s Best Decade? The 1980s

By 07.19.11

Larry Bird, Magic Johnson

This is the first post in a three-part series we will be running today on the best decade in NBA history. Was it the 1980s? The 1990s? Or the 2000s? Can you make the arguments that one of the earlier decades was even better? Sure. But not likely. Can you make an argument that one of these three was the best ever? Of course. And that’s what we’re doing…

The 1980’s was a wild decade. Bon Jovi dominated the charts. Wall Street was booming. I was conceived. But other than all that great stuff, it was the best decade for the NBA. If the 1970s had the best style of basketball and the ’90s featured the best players, the ’80s was the happy medium between the two. Although I was only alive for one year of it, I know that 1980’s basketball was a beautiful thing – a true incarnation of American glitz and glamour that defined the decade.

When I think of the ’80s, I think, above all else, of team basketball. The two teams that dominated the decade were the L.A. Lakers and the Boston Celtics, a rivalry that would not be renewed until 2008. Of all the great fastbreaks in NBA history, the Showtime Lakers were the filthiest. Their break was led by Magic Johnson, a 6-foot-9 point guard who could just as easily post you up or knock down a jump-hook if he wanted to. To complement Magic, the Lake-show also had the number one scorer of all-time in Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, plus James Worthy, who got buckets in abundance.

The other team of note is the Celtics. Larry Bird was the Dirk Nowitzki before there was a Dirk Nowitzki. Bird scored 40 or more points 47 times in the regular season and won championships in ’81, ’84 and ’86. The Celtics also typified team basketball – Kevin McHale, Robert “The Chief” Parish, Gerald Henderson, and Dennis Johnson were just as much of a reason the team was so successful. Even if you hated Boston, you had to respect them. The Celts were one of the main reasons Jordan‘s Bulls never broke through to the Finals in the ’80s.

By the end of decade, a far more menacing, physical, bruising team took over the league, and that was the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons. Detroit, with Isiah Thomas (arguably the best point guard of all-time,) Joe Dumars, big man Bill Laimbeer and a young Dennis Rodman established a code of conduct for playing against the up-and-coming Bulls known as the “Jordan Rules.” This essentially consisted of knocking the hell out of Michael Jordan every time he came down the lane. The strategy worked, and the “Bad Boys” ran off two straight titles to end the decade. Have we seen a more intimidating team since the late-’80s Pistons?

The 1980s also saw its fair share of individual talent. Julius Erving might be most well-known for sporting his ‘fro and dunking in the ’70s, but his most iconic dunk came in 1983 when he stole a pass from the Lakers, and then rocked the cradle over Michael Cooper. Straight epic. Then of course there was Bernard King, a dominant force for the Knicks until he blew out his knee. He was the type of scorer that the Knicks are hoping Carmelo Anthony can become in the Garden. Clyde “the Glide” Drexler was Jordan’s main competition in the late ’80s and early ’90s, although MJ put a stop to all that in the ’91 Finals.

Hakeem, Jordan, Barkley, Stockton all came into the league in the great 1984 NBA Draft and we got to see those guys grow up before becoming world superstars in the ’90s. But the reason the ’80s was such a great decade for basketball was because it featured some of the best players in history in the best team situations. You still saw give-and-gos, fundamental pick-and-rolls, but also a new wave of high-flying dunkers, and of course, physical play that today’s NBA lacks.

Best Player: Magic Johnson
Best Team: Boston Celtics
Best Song/Artist/Band: “Take On Me” by A-Ha/Michael Jackson/Duran Duran
Best Movie: The Goonies
Best TV Show/Cartoon: Miami Vice/Inspector Gadget
Best MTV Show: Yo! MTV Raps
Best News Story: The fall of the Berlin Wall
Best/Funniest Coach: Pat Riley/Hubie Brown

Was this the best decade of NBA basketball?

Follow Mike on Twitter at @Mike_Aufses.

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TOPICS#BOSTON CELTICS
TAGSBernard KingCLYDE DREXLERDETROIT PISTONSDimeMagISIAH THOMASKAREEM ABDUL-JABBARLarry BirdLOS ANGELES LAKERSMAGIC JOHNSON

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