For this edition of NBA Tuesday, we move on to the 1988 season. The Los Angeles Lakers won their fifth championship of the decade, and Chicago Bulls shooting guard Michael Jordan won both the scoring title and the DPOY vote. That’s always stood out to us as being one of the more impressive accomplishments in professional basketball history. But will it hold up under retrospective scrutiny?!
Remember also to check out the first miniseries entry on this year for context, because knowledge is power.
1988 NBA FINALS MVP: James Worthy, SF, Los Angeles (original); Magic Johnson, PG, Los Angeles (revised)
In a brutal series that went 7 games, the Lakers topped the rising Detroit Pistons, coming back from a 3-2 deficit to win the title with two straight wins on their home court in Los Angeles. Small forward James Worthy was voted the Finals MVP, as he posted 22.0 ppg, 7.4 rpg, and 4.4 apg in the matchup against the Bad Boys. But we are not so sure, and here is why.
Point guard Magic Johnson was better, in almost every way: 21.1 ppg, 13.0 apg, 5.7 rpg, and 2.0 spg, all while playing 3.4 more minutes per game than Worthy—and outshooting him from the floor (55.0 to 49.2 percent) and the line (86.6 to 73.5 percent). Worthy won the award for posting 36 points and 16 boards in Game 7, and yes, that was huge. He also added 28 points in Game 6, which was very needed.
Worthy showed up when the team was desperate, but prior to that, it was all Magic, obviously. He just couldn’t do it alone, and we can’t reward Worthy for his Game 4 no-show effort (7 points), for example; the consistency just wasn’t there like it pretty much always was with Johnson. We understand the emotions of the moment; we watched this series as teenagers. But looking back now? It’s only Magic.
Who has getting Worthy the ball in Games 6 and 7, by the way? Yep. Magic had 19 assists in Game 6, and he added 14 dimes in Game 7. Sure, Worthy had a triple double in Game 7 himself, but 33 assists in the final two games with the season on the line is more impressive to us than the 64 points—especially when Magic scored 41 points of his own. For the record, this ties Bill Russell for the all-time Finals MVP lead.
1988 NBA DPOY: Michael Jordan, SG, Chicago (original, confirmed)
We have 5 candidates here, and Jordan (6.07 DWS) is one of them. But there’s also Houston Rockets center Akeem Olajuwon (6.32), Utah Jazz power forward Karl Malone (6.09), Jazz C Mark Eaton (5.22), and Pistons C Bill Laimbeer (5.04). We have to drop the teammates, so this comes down to the Dream, Air Jordan, and the Prince of Darkness.
The Pistons won their division with an 18-win playoff cushion; the Bulls were just 4 games behind Detroit. As for Houston, they also had an 18-win postseason margin for error in a weak Western Conference. It is what it is; therefore, we actually can confirm Jordan’s DPOY vote win, since the DWS marks are close. This is the second time we’ve confirmed the DPOY vote since the award started being granted in 1983.
What did Jordan do so well? Hmmm … he posted career-high marks in steals (3.2 per game) and blocks (1.6 per game), for starters. He was never better in his NBA lifetime. Jordan also snared 5.5 rebounds per game, which isn’t extraordinary or anything. But he did all this, in addition to scoring 35.0 ppg, while playing an NBA-high 40.4 mpg, too. This is the point where volume meets effectiveness, to the stars.
Check in every Tuesday for our NBA awards historical analysis on The Daily McPlay!