Timeline of the National Basketball Association in the 1980s. The timeline includes landmark moments in league history and key moments off the court as the NBA celebrates its 75th season:
February 22, 1980: The United States men’s ice hockey team defeats the Soviet Union 4-3 in the Olympic semifinals in Lake Placid, New York, to earn one of the biggest upsets of sports history. The Americans defeated Finland two days later in the final to claim gold.
March 21, 1980: US President Jimmy Carter announces that Americans will boycott the Moscow Summer Olympics in protest against the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.
May 16, 1980: Rookie Earvin “Magic” Johnson steps in and plays in injured center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in Game 6 of the NBA Finals with his Los Angeles Lakers holding a 3-2 lead over the Philadelphia 76ers . Johnson, a 6-foot-9 point guard, finished with 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists to help the Lakers clinch the title with a 123-107 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
May 1980: Boston’s Larry Bird beats Los Angeles Lakers’ Magic Johnson for rookie of the year. Bird averaged 21.3 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game.
1980: Los Angeles Lakers center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wins his sixth MVP award after winning five in the 1970s. He averaged 24.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 3.4 blocks.
January 20, 1981: Americans held hostage by militarized Iranian students for 444 days are released minutes after Ronald Reagan becomes President of the United States. The 52 diplomats and citizens were detained after the students took over the United States Embassy in Tehran on November 4, 1979.
March 30, 1981: President Ronald Reagan is shot and wounded by John Hinckley Jr. in an assassination attempt outside a Washington DC hotel. Reagan survived and eventually served two terms.
1981: Julius Erving, the ABA’s brightest pre-merger star, wins his only NBA MVP award. He won the ABA MVP award in 1974, 1975 and 1976. He is the only player to be named MVP in both leagues.
August 1, 1981: MTV debut. Cable network Music Television emphasizes music videos and becomes a pop culture phenomenon.
November 30, 1982: Michael Jackson releases “Thriller”. The album spent 37 weeks at No. 1 as singles were released through 1984. “Beat It” and “Billie Jean” were No. 1, and “Thriller”, “The Girl Is Mine”, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’, “”PYT (Pretty Young Thing)” and “Human Nature” all reached the Top 10. The album was the No. 1 seller in 1983 and 1984 and won eight Grammys in 1984. The video of the song “Thriller” is considered by many to be the greatest of all time.
May 31, 1983: After Philadelphia broke the league record 65-17 in the regular season, Moses Malone predicted the 76ers would sweep the playoffs and win the NBA title, saying they would win every series in four games -” Fo, Fo, Fo. He wasn’t that far off – the 76ers only lost once en route to the title. They swept the Lakers in the NBA Finals to avenge losses to Los Angeles. in 1980 and 1982.
1983: Moses Malone of Philadelphia wins his third and final MVP award in five years. He won the first two with the Houston Rockets. One of the most successful players to skip college and turn pro, he averaged 22.7 points and 13.4 rebounds that season.
1984: The NBA launches its slam dunk contest as part of All-Star Weekend, reviving an event the ABA introduced in 1976. Cleveland Cavaliers’ Larry Nance defeats 1976 winner Julius Erving to win the title in of an event that has become a staple of All-Star Weekend.
June 12, 1984: The Boston Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers 111-102 in Game 7 of the first NBA Finals between Boston’s Larry Bird and Los Angeles’ Magic Johnson. They would meet in the Finals twice more, with the Lakers winning both.
June 19, 1984: One of the best drafts in NBA history. Akeem Olajuwon is the No. 1 pick with Michael Jordan at No. 3 after Portland infamously picked Sam Bowie at No. 2 over Jordan. Bowie had a career cut short by injuries. Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Otis Thorpe, Alvin Robertson, Kevin Willis and Sam Perkins were other notable players in this draft.
May 8, 1984: The Soviet Union announces that it will boycott the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. The Soviets spoke of security concerns. US President Ronald Reagan called it political.
February 9, 1985: Dominique Wilkins of the Atlanta Hawks defeats rookie Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls in an epic slam dunk contest.
April 1, 1985: The first Air Jordan shoe is released to the public.
May 27, 1985: The Boston Celtics beat the Los Angeles Lakers 148-114 in Game 1 of the NBA Finals in a game known as the “Memorial Day Massacre”.
June 8, 1985: The Los Angeles Lakers beat the Boston Celtics 111-100 in Game 6 of the NBA Finals, making it the first time in nine tries that the Lakers beat the Celtics in a Finals series. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was named NBA Finals MVP at age 38.
June 24, 1985: Michael Jordan is named rookie of the year.
January 20, 1986: Martin Luther King Jr. Day is first observed as a federal holiday.
January 28, 1986: The space shuttle Challenger explodes shortly after liftoff. All seven crew members are killed, including teacher Christa McAuliffe.
February 8, 1986: Spud Webb, a 5-foot-7 guard for the Atlanta Hawks, wins the slam dunk contest. He edged out teammate, 1985 winner Dominique Wilkins, for the crown.
April 20, 1986: Michael Jordan scores a playoff-high 63 points in a 135-131 double-overtime loss to the Boston Celtics. He broke the Elgin Baylor record of 61 points set in 1962. The record still stands. He couldn’t stop Boston from making its own history. The Celtics tied a league single-season record of 33 straight home wins, including the playoffs, set by the Minneapolis Lakers in 1949-50.
May 21, 1986: Ralph Sampson’s tip at the buzzer goes off, lifts Houston past the Los Angeles Lakers and propels the Rockets to the NBA Finals. The Lakers had reached the Finals the previous four years, but the Rockets, with the “Twin Towers” – 7-foot-4 Sampson and 7-footer Akeem Olajuwon – won the series 4-1. The Boston Celtics defeated the Rockets in the Finals.
May 29, 1986: Larry Bird wins his third straight MVP award. No one has won three in a row since. Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain are the only others to do so.
July 4, 1986: Rappers Run-DMC and rock band Aerosmith release their collaboration, “Walk This Way.” The song eventually reached number four on the Billboard charts and helped bring rapping into the mainstream.
September 8, 1986: The Oprah Winfrey Show begins. Over its 25-year run, it became the highest-rated daytime talk show in television history.
November 22, 1986: Mike Tyson defeats Trevor Berbick by second-round TKO to capture the WBC title and win his first championship belt at age 20. He won his first 37 fights, many with spectacular knockouts, until he was upset by Buster Douglas in 1990. He was a household name, and his fame spawned the Nintendo game “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out !!” In 1987.
April 17, 1987: Michael Jordan wins the first of his 10 scoring titles. He’s averaging 37.1 points per game, the most since Wilt Chamberlain averaged 44.8 in 1962-63.
March 29, 1987: Hulk Hogan bodyslams 520-pound André the Giant and successfully defends his World Wrestling Federation title in front of 93,173 fans at WrestleMania III in the Pontiac Silverdome. Vince McMahon Jr.’s WWF gained momentum in the mid-’80s with the growth of “Hulkamania” and wrestling’s connection to MTV. Led by stars such as Hogan, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, “Macho Man” Randy Savage and The Ultimate Warrior, the WWF carved out a huge place for itself in ’80s pop culture.
June 12, 1987: President Ronald Reagan stands in front of the Berlin Wall and calls on Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev to act, saying: ‘Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! East began building in 1961, split Berlin in two, and became a symbol of the split between the Soviet-led Communist Eastern Bloc and the largely democratic Western Bloc, led by the United States. wall finally fell in 1989 and 1990.
1988: Michael Jordan wins the first of his five MVP awards and is named Defensive Player of the Year. He led the league in goals and steals and was the slam dunk champion and All-Star Game MVP.
May 22, 1988: Boston’s Larry Bird and Atlanta’s Dominique Wilkins face off in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Bird scored 34 points to help the Celtics to a 118-116 win. Wilkins scored 47 points in the loss. Bird averaged 26.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 6.4 assists in the series while Wilkins averaged 31.3 points and 5.4 rebounds.
June 21, 1988: The Los Angeles Lakers win their fifth title of the 1980s. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wins his sixth NBA title at age 41 to go along with his six MVP awards.
September 28, 1988: The United States men’s basketball team, made up of amateurs, loses to the Soviet Union in the Olympic semi-finals. In 1989, FIBA changed its rules allowing NBA players to participate. This led to the United States forming the Dream Team which dominated the 1992 Games.
May 7, 1989: Michael Jordan’s hanging shot over Cleveland’s Craig Ehlo beat the buzzer and gave the Chicago Bulls a 101-100 playoff victory over the host Cavaliers. Jordan drove left, stopped near the free-throw line, outlasted Ehlo in the air, and dumped the game-winner. Jordan’s celebratory leap and fist pump as Ehlo crashes to the ground is iconic. The win secured the Eastern Conference first-round playoff series 3-2.
June 13, 1989: Isiah Thomas leads the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons to the top as they defeat the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. No team other than the Celtics and Lakers had won a title since Philadelphia won the title in 1983. The Pistons won again in 1990.
October 17, 1989: The Loma Prieta earthquake hits as the San Francisco Giants and Oakland Athletics prepare for Game 3 of the World Series at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. The earthquake was measured at a magnitude of 6.9 and affected both Oakland and San Francisco. It killed over 60 people and collapsed part of the Bay Bridge. The World Series has been postponed for 10 days.
November 9, 1989: opening of the Berlin Wall. Official demolition began in 1990.
December 3, 1989: US President George Bush and Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev meet and declare the end of the Cold War at a summit in Malta.
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