After signing Moses Malone, the Philadelphia 76ers recorded an impressive 65 regular season wins, three shy of their franchise record from 1967 with Wilt Chamberlain. Just like Wilt, Malone was awarded the league MVP, his second straight and third overall. Before the playoffs, Moses made a bold prediction of “Fo’, fo’, fo,” regarding the number of games it would take to win the Finals. Though they dropped a game to the Milwaukee Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals, they reached the NBA Finals hungry to prove their place.
In previous years, Cleveland Cavaliers general manager Ted Stepien traded the franchise’s first round pick in 1982 to the Los Angeles Lakers. Thanks to the Cavaliers finishing last in the league, the Lakers won the first overall pick in the NBA Draft and selected North Carolina forward James Worthy. A late season injury held Worthy out of the playoffs, and injured veteran Bob McAdoo was limited in the NBA Finals.
The 76ers employed the same starting backcourt as the previous year with Maurice Cheeks at point guard and Andrew Toney at shooting guard. Julius Erving continued to start up front, alongside newcomers Marc Iavaroni at power forward and Moses Malone at center.
Bobby Jones returned to the bench and was awarded the first Sixth Man of the Year award for his efforts. Clint Richardson and Franklin Edwards provided depth in the backcourt, and Clemon Johnson proved capable as a backup big man. Reggie Johnson, Earl Cureton, and Mark McNamara all saw scarce playoff minutes.
Worthy’s injury weakened the Lakers’ bench. Michael Cooper continued to backup the wing, and Bob McAdoo played through injury to backup Rambis and Kareem. Mark Landsberger saw time as a fourth big man, but Dwight Jones, Steve Mix, Mike McGee, and Clay Johnson all saw limited minutes.
Game One: Lakers 107, 76ers 113
The Lakers led by three at the half but surrendered their lead to the surging 76ers. Led by the three-headed monster scoring punch of Malone (27 points, 18 rebounds), Erving (20 points, 10 rebounds, 9 assists), and Toney (25 points), Philadelphia jumped out to a 1-0 series lead in front of their home crowd. Magic had a near triple-double with 19/9/11, but it wasn’t enough as the Lakers trailed in the NBA Finals for the first time in his career.
Game Two: Lakers 93, 76ers 103
In game two, the Lakers once again jumped out to a halftime lead but succumbed to the 76ers’ balanced offensive attack. Five players scored at least 14 points, led by Malone’s 24 points and 12 rebounds. Kareem played well for Los Angeles with 23 points, but the Lakers committed 29 fouls. Magic, Wilkes, and Nixon combined to shoot 18 for 48.
Game Three: 76ers 111, Lakers 94
Behind two games to none, the Lakers looked to right the ship back home at The Forum. The 76ers had other plans and ran away with the game in the second half behind Malone’s monster 28 points and 19 rebounds. Erving and Toney both chipped in 21 points, and Jones had 17 off the bench. Kareem scored 23 for the second straight game alongside 15 rebounds, but Magic made only three field goals and committed a game-high eight turnovers.
Game Four: 76ers 115, Lakers 108
With their season on the line, the Lakers jumped out to a 14-point halftime lead. Once again, though, the 76ers rallied in the second half behind Malone’s 24 points and 23 rebounds. Toney (23 points), Cheeks (20 points), and Erving (21 points) provided the much-needed support for Philadelphia. Kareem scored a series-high 28 points for Los Angeles, but Magic (27 points) shot poorly again and turned the ball over nine times. This victory sealed the championship for the 76ers, their first in three tries against the Lakers and their first since 1967.
Moses Malone was a no-brainer choice for the Finals MVP in 1983. The 76ers would win 52 games the following season, but they were upset early in the playoffs by the young New Jersey Nets. Malone would remain with the team until the 1987 season, when he was traded to the Washington Bullets. Philadelphia wouldn’t reach the NBA Finals again until 2001, when they were led by superstar guard Allen Iverson.
The Lakers would once again reach the NBA Finals in 1984, joined by the healthy James Worthy. Norm Nixon was traded in the off-season following their loss to Philadelphia for the rights to rookie guard Byron Scott, a fixture in the Lakers’ lineup for years to come. The 1984 NBA Finals rekindled the 1960s rivalry between the Lakers and Celtics.