By Sam Grigsby, PSO Director of Sports History
Jun 09, 2021

The 1985 champion Lakers failed to defend their title in ’86, falling to Hakeem Olajuwon and Ralph Sampson’s Rockets in the Conference Finals. This prevented a showdown between Showtime and the best iteration of Larry Bird’s Celtics in 1986, who went on to beat Houston in the championship. The next season, Magic JohnsonKareem Abdul-Jabaar, and James Worthy led their team to its best record during their tenure together and reached the Finals to face the reigning champion Celtics.

  • Magic Johnson used Kareem’s skyhook to defeat the Celtics 107-106 in NBA Finals Game 4 on June 9, 1987
  • From 1980-1987, only 4 teams made the Finals: LA Lakers (4-2), BOS Celtics (3-2), PHI 76ers (1-2), HOU Rockets (0-2)
  • LAL set 2 NBA Finals records by recording a 61.5% FG and combining for 44 total AST during Game 2
  • Lakers & Celtics combined for the most PTS (263) in a non-OT game in NBA Finals history during Game 2


1987 would be the last time Magic Johnson and Larry Bird would face off in the Finals, bringing an end to their decade-long rivalry. Magic Johnson entered the series as the newly crowned regular-season MVP along with his Defensive Player of the Year Teammate Michael Cooper. LA won the first two games by an average of 16 points. The Celtics took a close Game 3 on their home floor that gave them a boost of confidence. They would lead the Lakers at half in Game 4 by eight, pushing it up to as much as 16, but their opponents found new life late in the third quarter and cut it to seven.

Boston’s lead dissipated further in the fourth, reaching only one point with seven seconds left. Kevin McHale made a costly mistake by fumbling a rebound from a missed free throw out of bounds that gave LA possession under the basket. The ball was inbounded to Magic Johnson who dibbled into the middle of the lane and gave his team the lead after hitting a baby sky hook over the Celtics HOF frontcourt. Larry Bird missed a buzzer-beating game-winner on the other end, sealing the Lakers’ victory. LA would win the ’87 Finals in six games, earning Magic his fourth championship and third Finals MVP.

  • Magic Johnson’s GW sky hook


  • Full Game 4 highlights




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