Celtics Dismiss Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: NBA Legends No Longer a Threat in '85 Finals

Exploring the resilience of an NBA legend under fire.

by Nouman Rasool
Celtics Dismiss Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: NBA Legends No Longer a Threat in '85 Finals
© Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

In a moment that reshaped the narrative of NBA rivalries, the Memorial Day Massacre of 1985 became a pivotal turning point. During Game 1 of the Finals, the Boston Celtics delivered a crushing 34-point defeat to the Los Angeles Lakers.

However, the real story unfolded in the aftermath when Celtics legend Red Auerbach publicly underestimated the impact of Lakers' center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, suggesting that the towering 7'2" athlete was no longer a threat worth double-teaming.

This dismissal came after Abdul-Jabbar’s subdued 12-point performance in just 22 minutes on the court. The Celtics’ comments would soon backfire spectacularly. Kareem, also known as 'Cap,' used the criticism as fuel, transforming it into a powerhouse performance that would not only win him the Larry O’Brien trophy but also the Finals MVP, both awarded at the Boston Garden—much to the chagrin of the Celtics fans.

Kareem's Motivational Fire

Reflecting on these events on the 'Off The Dribble' podcast, host and former teammate Byron Scott revealed insights into Abdul-Jabbar’s psyche during this intense period. Despite facing heavy scrutiny from Auerbach and the media, Abdul-Jabbar channeled his frustrations positively.

“That was motivation," Kareem disclosed on the podcast. "To have your chief rivals say you're no longer worth the trouble of guarding, you know, I had to do something about that to double-check myself to make sure that wasn’t the facts." By Game 2, Abdul-Jabbar had silenced his doubters, erupting for 30 points on a remarkable 57.7% shooting from the field.

He also added 17 rebounds, eight assists, and three blocks, leading the Lakers to a pivotal 109-102 victory in Boston and securing home-court advantage. The momentum did not stop there. Abdul-Jabbar dominated the remainder of the series, averaging 27.7 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 5.5 assists over the next four games.

His stellar performance not only avenged the Lakers’ previous season’s loss but also allowed him to mockingly lift the Finals MVP trophy in front of a stunned Celtics crowd. The Lakers’ triumph was a testament to Abdul-Jabbar’s unyielding spirit and the Lakers’ strategy to rally behind their leader.

"All we did is say, 'Let's just jump on the captain's back,'" Scott reminisced, describing Abdul-Jabbar's influential presence on the team. This historic win underscored the intense competitiveness of the Celtics vs. Lakers rivalry, a hallmark of the NBA during the 1980s.

Abdul-Jabbar, reflecting on his storied career, still savors the unique triumph of clinching an NBA Championship on the hostile grounds of the Boston Garden, a feat that speaks volumes about his legacy and the enduring Lakers’ spirit.