Game 7. NBA Finals. By definition, it doesn't get any bigger for NBA teams, but when you're the defending champs to boot, the stakes improbably rise even higher. This was the situation facing the Lakers as they squared off against the Bad Boy Pistons in 1988.
These are situations separating the men from the boys. On June 21, 1988, James Worthy wasn't just a man. He was the man.
36 points, 16 rebounds and 10 assists. A triple-double ensuring Mr. Larry O' Brien didn't require a change of address that summer. I could explain the significance of the performance, but I imagine Lakers fans would prefer a take it straight from the horse's mouth. During a recent PodKast with Big Game James, I asked Worthy what it meant to come through on the biggest stage at the biggest moment of his career:
"I was the third wheel. It was Magic, Kareem and then I was the third wheel. And you know, the third wheel is a guy, he's always got to prove himself. He's either up for trade bait or he's really got to prove that he belongs in that trio. I think losing in '84 and then winning in '85, we'd never beaten the Celtics, so that was huge. Then we lost in '86 and they thought about making some changes. They thought about trading me for Mark Aguirre and Roy Tarpley because there was some inconsistency in whether we could win back-to-back.
"So winning in '87 was a great year, one of the greatest teams I've ever played on. Then when you accomplish a back-to-back and you are the MVP, and you finally make your mark on this team, you finally know that you are part of that trio, and there's no doubt you belong there. It's personally gratifying, and also to win a back-to-back, something that hadn't been [done] in 19 years, combining those two kind of solidified, "I'm here, I'm gonna be here, and I belong here."
ESPNLA.com and Land O' Lakers are counting down the ten greatest playoff moments in Laker history. Upon completion, fans will be asked to vote on the single greatest moment of all. Previous moments include: