Originally created 06/07/01

In '83, Philly swept Lakers for title



LOS ANGELES -- In 1983, the Philadelphia 76ers were on a playoff roll, and the limping Los Angeles Lakers weren't about to stop them.

Led by Julius Erving and Moses Malone, the 76ers swept the injury-riddled Lakers in four games in the NBA Finals. Their 12-1 postseason record made them the only team to go through the playoffs with one loss.

Eighteen years later, the teams meet again for the championship, and the Lakers are heavy favorites this time to dispatch Allen Iverson and the 76ers just as quickly.

"These Lakers will make revenge," said Michael Cooper, who was part of a talented Los Angeles lineup in '83 and now coaches the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks.

Back then, the Lakers went into the finals without an injured James Worthy. During the series, Bob McAdoo, Cooper and Norm Nixon also came down with injuries.

"We were playing some pretty good basketball and all of a sudden one of our key guards Norm Nixon goes down, then Bob McAdoo goes down. That was it," Cooper recalled. "That's one of those seasons where you say you've done everything perfectly during the regular season and you just figure where it wasn't your year."

Besides Cooper, the team included Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Kurt Rambis and Jamaal Wilkes.

Cooper remembers the discouragement that permeated the locker room after the Lakers lost the first two games to Philly by a combined 16 points.

"It's demoralizing because there's nothing we can do to stop this team from beating us," he said.

The 76ers administered a thorough beating in Game 3, winning by 17 points.

"Down 2-0, you think you can win this if you win your two home games," Cooper said. "Then 3-0, you say, 'Let's just save face and not let them win on our home court.' "

Philadelphia closed out the series with a 115-108 victory. That completed a postseason which Malone, having the kind of year that produced a spot among this year's Hall of Fame inductees, had initially predicted would see nothing but Sixers' victories: "Fo', fo', fo'."

As it turned out, the 76ers' record was immortalized inside their championship rings, in a paraphrase of Malone's forecast: "Fo', fi', fo'."

Watching his old team finish off Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference finals before a screaming, sellout crowd, Malone noted that the Sixers of old often looked up at empty seats.

"It's louder here now than it ever was when we were winning," Malone said. "They love them now."

Cooper says it's unfair to compare the current Lakers, led by superstars Shaquille O'Neal and Kobe Bryant, to the Los Angeles teams of the '80s or the Chicago Bulls through the '90s.

"We had three or four great players," he said. "This team has two great players, but a bevy of guys who are playing their roles. Those six or seven guys on the bench are very crucial to the whole thing."

Cooper has watched the current Lakers go undefeated in 11 playoff games leading to the start of the Finals on Wednesday night.

A sweep would give them the first 15-0 record in history. Three teams have managed 15-2 marks, most recently San Antonio two years ago.

"This can be considered an NBA classic moment," Cooper said. "It's very rare that a team will hit a stride and you've got two superstars who are having great individual seasons, but they're making other people step up."

Much of the Lakers' success has been attributed to the low-post domination of O'Neal, Bryant's playmaking and Derek Fisher's defensive play. But Cooper singles out reserve guard Brian Shaw as a key in the Finals.

"He's a savvy veteran. He's the kind of guy that stands back and then everybody has their fingers in the holes in the dike to hold it back. Somebody says, 'Get that,' and there's Brian Shaw," Cooper said. "He does it both offensively and defensively."

Cooper lauds the 76ers for taking a confident approach and maintaining a winning mindset against overwhelming odds. But he believes their best - and perhaps only - chance of winning a game in the Finals will come Wednesday night.

The 76ers were stretched to seven games against Milwaukee in the Eastern Conference finals, while the Lakers have been idle since May 27.

"The Lakers will be game rusty. Game toughness is different than practice toughness," Cooper said. "The only way they'll escape this is if they have a 20-point lead at halftime. Otherwise, the Lakers will close the door."