NBA / Jul 19, 2011 / 11:30 am

The NBA’s Best Decade? The 1980s

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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  • Scott

    The good ol’ days, where a hand check wasn’t a foul. And no one flopped.

  • http://www.dimemag.com Dylan Murphy

    Any decade that has Miami Vice as one its best shows is a great decade in every way, basketball included. Hands down.

  • Doc

    There is no best decade.But people DID flop.People always hype the 80′s up like they was playing rugby.Sure the Pistons fucked Mike up every now and then but not every time.He was averaging 30+ on them too.Only reason Bron dont get fucked up is in the playoffs he wont go to the rack in life or death situations.Mike KEPT coming back.U had to fuck him up.

  • Doc

    And Mikes mid 80′s teams were garbage except for him.The Celtics werent keeping him out.The Bulls records back then was BS like 38-44 42-40,but nobody remember that anymore.Mike was always the undisputed best since he stepped on the court u let dudes tell it now.

  • Celts Fan

    The 80s gotta be the best ball. Teams had the perfect amount of talent before we added 7 more teams and over-expanded. Great teams had a TON of talent compared to current ones besides the couple super teams in Bos (who were all older when they came together) and Mia (collusion and dumb luck) It also featured 3 of the top 5-7 teams ever including the 2 best (Showtime Lakers #1, the 86 C’s #2, along w/ the fo-fo-fo Sixers.) like others had said too, the game was more physical and T’s weren’t always called even after fights.

    oh, and kills me to say this, but the best team of the 80s was the Lakers. 5 chips, 2 or 3 other trips to the Finals and they had the best team of the decade (and ever) in that run too.

  • Celts Fan

    @Doc – how’s that any different than Kobe slurpers trumpeting what he did w/ Kwame and Smush? (not that I disagree w/ you, it was Magic and Larry’s league til the late 80s when MJ forced his way into the conversation.)

  • Sean Sweeney

    @Celts Fan I’m surprised that you would take the best Lakers squad over the 86 Celtics?? That Boston team was insane.

  • Celts Fan

    @Sean – ya it was, that 86 team is probably 2nd best ever, but those Showtime teams were a bit better

  • Mike Auf

    True, but from 90-93 he had a pretty easy time coming out of the east until he ran into Ewing’s knicks. He couldn’t touch Isaiah’s Pistons or Bird’s Celts.

  • Doc

    u right celts fan I dont condone the Kobeness either.Mike he was running into Ewings Knicks teams from 90-93 and he swept Zeke and them before he won his first.So he could touch them.They also took them to 7 and 6 the years Detroit won back to back.Its just he was the young pup when Bird and then Zeke was in they prime.

  • nbaman

    When you said “Larry Bird was the Dirk Nowitzki before there was a Dirk Nowitzki” I stopped reading this article because that is a terrible comparison. It did not take Bird the end of his career to prove to people he was not soft and could win in pressure situations. You can maybe compare Dirk to Bird but never compare Bird to Dirk.

  • JAY

    90s > 80s

  • JAY

    Shit… that’s the other way around. LOL

    80s > 90s

  • Fernando Jones Sergio

    interesting topic. 80′s didnt have jordan in his prime tho. Thanks for posting your links as well. Im gonna pull out a Dr J Cradle Rocker next time i ball out outrageously.

  • KWA

    I don’t remember much of the 80s either, but I’m totally convinced by your thorough and insightful analysis of the decade in basketball!

  • http://www.gofukurselves.idiots.org Chicagorilla

    the mid-late 80′s is the best basketball ive ever seen as a whole. Meaning the entire NBA, not just 3-4 teams. It carried over to the early 90′s a little bit too.

    The 80′s gave us Bird, Magic, Zeke, Nique, Benard, Kareem, Drexler, Jordan, Barkley, Stockton, Malone, Mullins,Hakeem, Ewing, Dumars and so on. Its like every team was full of smart players, but also had a few athletes sprinkled throughout the team. We saw Bird win 3 MvPs in a row, Magic win the chip 5 times and come close in 2 or 3 others. MJ’s 1988 season. The intro to the NBA Dunk Contest and 3pt shootout!!! Pat Riley and Chuck Daley.
    intro’d us to the name brand sneakers (the Jordans, Magic and Birds Converse).

    And most importantly, the 80′s (with major help from Magic, Jordan, Nique, and Zeke) brought STYLE to the game. No look passes, windmill dunks, rock the cradle dunks, power two handers, tricky ballhandling, and passion like no others before them. the fastbreak became the feature part of basketball in the 80s.

  • Nora Kassidy

    God, I loved the eighties!

  • JAY

    “the mid-late 80′s is the best basketball ive ever seen as a whole. Meaning the entire NBA, not just 3-4 teams. ”

    ^^ Yup.
    That was the era of real men. When guys truly had their teammates’ backs. When basketball was played with the mind. When players on opposing teams genuinely hated each other. When the ‘diva’ term was still attached to the Patti Labelles and Tina Turners of the world. When a team with players in a contract year would be eliminated in the playoffs and there was no question in their mind that they will resign with their team because of ‘unfinished business’.

    The 80s…. when the word “lock-out” was used to describe MJ’s first all-star game, not a work stoppage.

    Anybody who says the 90s or 00s is the best decade, it’s obvious to me that they did not watch enough 80s ball.

  • crossphaded

    80s not only had the best music, but the best brand of NBA basketball! SO many stars, lots of scoring, and physicality!
    The 90s were ruined when the Knicks slowed the game down to a snail’s pace and scoring avg’s went way down to the point they shortened the 3-pt line. The 2000′s brought sexy back with lots of excitement and star power along with more scoring, but all the rule changes on defense has softened up the league too much.
    The 80s is where its at! High scoring, so many NBA legends, and physical play! Oh….and short-shorts. :)

  • Krayzie

    Couldn’t Dime find a writer who followed Basketball throughout the 80′s to talk about this decade, not some pre-teen who was born in 1989!