The 1980s was a precarious time for the NBA. Between struggling ratings, a perceived lack of star-power brought on by the parity-filled 1970s, and waning fan interest – the Association needed an injection of talent and big-time performers. The athletes on this list delivered.
Magic Johnson: 19.5 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 11.2 apg
Johnson was a key member of the Lakers’ “Showtime” era in the 1980s, leading the team to five NBA championships. He was also a member of the 1992 United States Olympic “Dream Team,” which won a gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics. He was known for his incredible court vision and passing ability.
Larry Bird: 24.3 ppg, 10.0 rpg, 6.3 apg
Larry Legend was a basketball savant many years ahead of his time, playing exclusively for the Boston Celtics and leading them to three NBA championships in the 1980s and earning three consecutive MVP awards. Bird was a scoring and shooting virtuoso who could also rebound and pass at a high level.
Michael Jordan: 30.1 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 5.3 apg
Jordan burst onto the scene in the 1980s, quickly establishing himself as one of the best players in the league. Though many of his famed accomplishments would come in the 1990s, Jordan was impactful immediately and was unquestionably taking the league by storm in the latter half of the decade.
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 24.6 ppg, 11.2 rpg, 3.6 apg
Though well past his prime at this point, a reduced version of Kareem was still one of the best players in the league – a true testament to his unquestioned dominance. Though the 80s was when Magic took over much of the offensive load, it is difficult to imagine Magic’s transcendent accomplishment’s without Abdul-Jabbar as a teammate.
Isiah Thomas: 19.2 ppg, 3.6 rpg, 9.3 apg
Michael Jordan is often credited with preventing superstars from winning championships in the 90s, one can legitimately make this argument about Thomas against Jordan at the end of the 80s. Though that Pistons team was a deep squad, Thomas was the unquestioned leader and best player.
Julius Erving: 22.0 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 4.2 apg
Erving, also known as “Dr. J,” was one of the most influential small forwards of his time for the Philadelphia 76ers in the 1980s, leading them to an NBA championship in 1983 and earning three MVP awards. He was known for his incredible athletic ability and his flashy style of play.
Moses Malone: 20.3 ppg, 12.3 rpg, 1.3 apg
Moses Malone was a rebounding force and the pivotal reason behind the 76ers championship run. An all-time great that could easily dominate in any era, but dominated in the 80s.
Kevin McHale: 17.9 ppg, 7.3 rpg, 1.7 apg
Kevin McHale was a dominant power forward in the 1980s, playing for the Boston Celtics. He was known for his strong inside game and his ability to score, rebound, and defend. McHale was a key part of the Celtics’ success in the 1980s, helping the team win three NBA championships (1981, 1984, and 1986). In addition to his championship successes, McHale was a seven-time NBA All-Star and was named to the All-NBA Second Team three times during the decade. He was also known for his durability, playing in at least 70 games in all but one of the seasons in the 1980s
Robert Parish: 14.5 ppg, 9.1 rpg, 1.4 apg
Parish was known for his strong inside game, his excellent shot-blocking ability, and his overall defensive prowess. Parish was a key part of the Celtics’ success in the 1980s, helping the team win three NBA championships (1981, 1984, and 1986). In addition to his championship successes, Parish was a nine-time NBA All-Star and was named to the All-NBA Third Team twice during the decade. He was also known for his durability, playing in at least 70 games in all but one of the seasons in the 1980s.
James Worthy: 17.6 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.0 apg
James Worthy was a standout small forward in the 1980s, playing for the Los Angeles Lakers. He was known for his smooth, athletic style of play and his ability to score, rebound, and pass. Worthy was a key part of the Lakers’ success in the 1980s, helping the team win three NBA championships (1982, 1985, and 1987). In addition to his championship successes, Worthy was a seven-time NBA All-Star and was named to the All-NBA Third Team twice during the decade. He was also named the Finals MVP in 1988. Worthy had a highly successful and influential career in the NBA and is considered one of the best small forwards in league history.
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