Timeline of the National Basketball Association during the 1980s. The timeline includes milestone moments in league history and important off-court moments as the NBA celebrates its 75th season:
February 22, 1980: The US men’s ice hockey team claimed one of the biggest upsets in sporting history by defeating the Soviet Union 4–3 in the Olympic semifinals in Lake Placid, NY. The Americans won the gold medal, defeating Finland two days later in the final.
March 21, 1980: President of the United States Jimmy Carter announces that the Americans will boycott the Summer Olympics in Moscow in protest of the Soviet Union’s invasion of Afghanistan.
May 16, 1980: Rookie Arvin “Magic” Johnson steps out and plays in the center for the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar Their Los Angeles Lakers took a 3–2 series lead over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 6 of the NBA Finals. Johnson, a 6-foot-9 point guard, ends with 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists to help the Lakers take the title with a 123-107 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers.
May 1980: Larry Bird of Boston beat Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers for rookie of the year. Bird averages 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 claiming 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’s inauguration as US President. On 4 November 1979, 52 diplomats and civilians were arrested after students captured the US embassy in Tehran.
March 30, 1981: President Ronald Reagan is shot and wounded by John Hinckley Jr. in an attempted assassination outside a Washington DC hotel. Reagan survived and eventually served two terms.
1981: Julius Irving, the brightest ABA star before the merger, wins his only NBA MVP award. He claimed the ABA’s MVP award in 1974, 1975 and 1976. He is the only player to be named MVP in both leagues.
August 1, 1981: MTV debut. The music television cable network emphasizes music videos and has become a pop culture phenomenon.
November 30, 1982: Michael Jackson releases “Thriller”. The album spent 37 weeks at #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 topped Arrived at 10. The album was a #1 seller in 1983 and 1984 and won eight Grammys in 1984. The “Thriller” song video is considered by many to be the best of all time.
May 31, 1983: After a league-best 65–17 in Philadelphia’s regular season, Moses Malone predicted that the 76ers would reach the playoffs and win the NBA title, adding that they would win the series in four games each – “Fu, FO, FO.” He wasn’t that far off – the 76ers lost just once on the way to the title. He defeated the Lakers in the NBA Finals in 1980 and 1982 to avenge losses to Los Angeles.
1983: Moses Malone of Philadelphia won his third and final MVP award in a five-year period. He won the first two with the Houston Rockets. One of the most successful players to drop off college and go pro, he averaged 22.7 points and 13.4 rebounds that season.
1984: The NBA makes its slam dunk competition debut as part of All-Star Weekend, a revival of a phenomenon initiated by the ABA in 1976. Larry Nance of the Cleveland Cavaliers defeated 1976 champ Julius Irving to claim the title in 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 in the first NBA Finals between Larry Bird of Boston and Magic Johnson of Los Angeles. They will meet twice more in the final, with the Lakers winning both.
June 19, 1984: One of the best drafts in NBA history. Akim Olajuwon is at No. 1 with Michael Jordan. It is at No. 2 after Portland after discrediting Sam Bowie at No. 3. Bowie’s career was full of injuries. Charles Barkley, John Stockton, Otis Thorpe, Alvin Robertson, Kevin Willis and Sam Perkins were other notable players in that draft.
May 8, 1984: The Soviet Union announced that it would boycott the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. The Soviets cited security concerns. US President Ronald Reagan called it political.
February 9, 1985: Dominic Wilkins of the Atlanta Hawks beats 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, 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, marking the first time in nine tries that the Lakers defeated the Celtics in the Finals Series. At the age of 38, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was named the NBA Finals MVP.
June 24, 1985: Michael Jordan was named Rookie of the Year.
January 20, 1986: Martin Luther King Jr. Day was observed as a federal holiday for the first time.
January 28, 1986: Challenger spacecraft explodes just after liftoff. All seven crew members, including teacher Christa McAuliffe, were killed.
February 8, 1986: Spud Webb, 5-foot-7 guard for the Atlanta Hawks, wins the Slam Dunk Contest. He edged out his teammate, 1985 winner Dominic Wilkins, for the crown.
April 20, 1986: Michael Jordan hits a playoff-record 63 points In a 135-131 double-overtime loss to the Boston Celtics. He broke Elgin Boiler’s record of 61 points set in 1962. The record still stands. That couldn’t stop Boston from making its history. The Celtics set a single-season league record of 33 consecutive home wins, including a playoff set by the Minneapolis Lakers in 1949–50.
May 21, 1986: Tip-in on Ralph Sampson’s buzzer rattle, takes Houston ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers and propels the Rockets to the NBA Finals. The Lakers had reached the finals in the last four years, but the Rockets, consisting of the “Twin Towers” – 7-foot-4 Sampson and 7-footer Akim Olajuwon – won the series 4-1. The Boston Celtics defeated the Rockets in the final.
May 29, 1986: Larry Bird wins his third consecutive MVP award. Since then no one has won three in a row. Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain are the only ones to do so.
July 4, 1986: Rappers Run-DMC and rock band Aerosmith release their collaboration, “Walk This Way.” The song eventually peaked at number 4 on the Billboard charts and helped bring rap to the mainstream.
September 8, 1986: The Oprah Winfrey Show debuts. During its 25-year tenure, it became the highest-rated talk show in the history of television.
November 22, 1986: Mike Tyson wins the WBC title by defeating Trevor Berbick by TKO in the second round and claims his first championship belt at age 20. He won his first 37 fights, many with spectacular knockouts, until upset with Buster Douglas. in the 1990s. He was a household name, and his fame led to the Nintendo game “Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!” gave birth to in 1987.
April 17, 1987: Michael Jordan wins the first of his 10 scoring titles. He averages 37.1 points per game, the highest since Wilt Chamberlain’s average of 44.8 in 1962–63.
March 29, 1987: Hulk Hogan bodyslams 520-pound Andre the Giant and successfully defends his World Wrestling Federation title in front of 93,173 fans at WrestleMania III at the Pontiac Silverdome. Vince McMahon Jr.’s WWF gained momentum in the mid-80s with the development of “Hulkamania” and its wrestling relationship with MTV. Led by stars such as Hogan, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, “Macho Man” Randy Savage and The Ultimate Warrior, WWF carved a huge niche in ’80s pop culture.
June 12, 1987: President Ronald Reagan stands at the Berlin Wall and calls on Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to act, saying, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” The wall, which East Germany began to build in 1961, split Berlin in half and became a symbol of the division between the communist Eastern Bloc led by the Soviet Union and the largely democratic Western Bloc led by the United States . The wall eventually 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 scoring and steals and was the Slam Dunk Champion and All-Star Game MVP.
May 22, 1988: Larry Bird of Boston and Dominic Wilkins of Atlanta duel in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Byrd scored 34 points to help the Celtics claim a 118–116 victory. Wilkins scored 47 points in the loss. Bird averages 26.4 points, 7.7 rebounds and 6.4 assists in series while Wilkins averages 31.3 points and 5.4 rebounds.
June 21, 1988: The Los Angeles Lakers win their fifth title of the 1980s. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won his sixth NBA title at the age of 41, along with his six MVP awards.
September 28, 1988: The United States men’s basketball team, along with a team 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 America to be the dream team to dominate the 1992 Games.
May 7, 1989: Michael Jordan’s hanging jump shot over Cleveland’s Craig Ehlo defeats the buzzer and gives the Chicago Bulls a 101–100 playoff win over the host Cavaliers. Jordan went to the left, pulled near the free-throw line, hurled Ehlo in the air and fired the game-winner. Jordan’s celebratory leaps and fist pumps as Ahlo are iconic. The victory won the first-round Eastern Conference playoff series 3–2.
June 13, 1989: Isiah Thomas leads the “Bad Boy” Detroit Pistons as they beat the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals. No team apart from the Celtics and Lakers had won the title since Philadelphia claimed 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 quake measured 6.9 and affected both Oakland and San Francisco. It killed over 60 people and a portion of the Bay Bridge collapsed. The World Series was postponed by 10 days.
November 9, 1989: The Berlin Wall opens. Official demolition began in 1990.
December 3, 1989: US President George Bush and Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev announce the end of the Cold War at a summit in Malta.
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