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Defining the decade: The best team, player and moments of the 1980s

It's decades week here on NBA.com and each day we're paying our dues to the defining players, teams and moments of every decade.

"You can't tell the story of X without Y."

How many times have you heard that phrase in some way, shape or form? And how many times have you then heard anyone try to tell those stories?

Well, that's exactly what we're doing, picking a different decade each day and telling the story of each 10-year run through the lens of the five defining moments... and only five!

We'll also pick out the best player, team and game along with some statistical superlatives.

Onto the 1980s...

The five moments that mattered

Magic vs Bird: Long time sports writer Jack McCallum wrote in 1992, "Magic Johnson and Larry Bird stepped in and rescued the NBA during it's darkest days".

Prior to the arrival of Magic and Bird, the NBA just wasn't appealing to many. Even Bird admitted he understood why people don't watch pro hoops in 1979.

"I can see why fans don't like to watch pro basketball," Bird told SI. "I don't, either. It's not exciting."

Magic and Bird may be the rivalry that saved the league.

The Lakers or Celtics appeared in the Finals series every year of the decade. Magic and Bird were the measuring sticks of the league in the '80s and they used each other as motivation.

The two biggest figures of the '80s took home eight championships between them, five league MVPs (Bird-3, Magic-2) and five Finals MVPs (Magic-3, Bird-2). Johnson would win a third MVP in 1990 to even the score. They were always competing and trying to one-up each other and the basketball world was captivated by it.

"Even though I won the championship (in 1980), I still wanted to win Rookie of the Year too," Magic said in HBO's 2010 documentary on the pair, "Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals."

Bird replied: "When he won that championship, I was pissed. I wanted one."

Without Magic and Bird, the NBA might not have been as popular as it is now.

MJ's arrival: Michael Jordan was only able to play 18 regular-season games in 1985-86, but on April 20, 1986, in Game 2 of the Bulls' first-round matchup with the Boston Celtics, MJ arrived.

Jordan dropped a playoff career-high 63 points in Chicago's 135-131 double-overtime loss to the Celtics. Larry Bird was happy to get the win but was in awe of Jordan's virtuoso performance.

"I didn't think anyone was capable of doing what Michael has done to us," Bird said after the game. "He is the most exciting, awesome player in the game today. I think it's just God disguised as Michael Jordan."

Kareem sets the all-time scoring record: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was unstoppable with the skyhook, so it came as no surprise when he set the all-time scoring record using the shot that made him so unguardable.

Cap rose up over shot-blocker extraordinaire Mark Eaton and dropped in two to bring his career points total to 31,420, breaking Wilt Chamberlain's NBA record by one point.

Abdul-Jabbar finished with 38,387 regular-season points which is still an NBA record. LeBron James is the active leader at 34,087.

'88 Dunk Contest: Dominque vs. Jordan: In 1985, the world got a taste of how special a dunk contest could be between Michael Jordan and Dominque Wilkins. Nique won that battle, though many thought MJ did enough to win. Jordan would have to wait three years before getting a chance at redemption.

Nique and MJ put on an absolute show in the 1988 Slam Dunk contest in Chicago. The two went back and worth, dunk for dunk, with Jordan avenging his loss three years earlier.

"Expectations in Chicago are out of this world," Wilkins said prior to the showdown.

The two delivered on the hype and solidified their places as two of the game's greatest dunkers.

The Bad Boys are here: After falling short in the 1988 NBA Finals to the Los Angeles Lakers, The Detroit Pistons finally broke through and won the NBA title in 1989.

The Bad Boys had struggled to get past the Boston Celtics for much and the '80s and were stiff-armed by the Lakers in '88 Final after taking a 3-2 lead, but in '89 their brash brand of basketball finally earned them the rings they coveted.

Detroit rolled through the playoffs, losing just two games en route to their first title. They followed up with another win in 1990 when they beat the Portland Trail Blazers in five games.

The '80s were all about Magic's Lakers and Bird's Celtics, but the Bad Boy Pistons made sure their voices were heard before the decade was out.

Biggest what if: What if Isiah Thomas doesn't get hurt in Game 6?

In Game 6 of the 1988 Finals, Isiah Thomas landed on Michael Cooper's foot and twisted his ankle. After hobbling off the floor, Thomas came back a man possessed trying to will the Pistons to their first title.

Zeke would drop 25 points in the third frame alone setting an NBA Finals record for points in a quarter. He did most of his damage hopping around on one leg. The Pistons who led the series 3-2 would take a two-point led into the fourth on the back of Thomas' heroics but it wasn't enough. L.A. won Game 6 by one, 103-102, and would win Game 7 at home to seal back-to-back titles.

Despite the loss, Thomas received a ton of respect from his opponents.

"What Isiah Thomas did in the second half was just incredible," Lakers coach Pat Riley said.

Magic Johnson added: "I think he was just unconscious. I think he said, 'Okay, I'm going to take this game over.' I've seen him do that before. He was in his rhythm. When he starts skipping and hopping, that means he's in his rhythm. That means he's ready."

Thomas finished with a game-high 43 points, eight dimes and six steals, but the damage to his ankle was too much to overcome in Game 7 where he struggled mightily.

Had Thomas not gotten injured the Bad Boy Pistons might have won the title a year earlier, accomplishing a rare three-peat.

Best team: Boston Celtics 1986

Arguably the greatest team of all-time, the '86 Celtics lost only one home game the whole year - still a record.

With the number one ranked defence and third-ranked offence, the Celtics could beat you in many ways that season.

Boston capped the year with an NBA title, with Larry Bird named Finals MVP for the second time in his career. Bird was also named league MVP for the third straight year.

Hall of Famer Bill Walton, who was now coming off the Celtics' bench, was named Sixth Man of the Year.

Not until the 72-win Bulls or 2017 Golden State Warriors came around did the '86 Celtics have serious competition as the best team ever.

Best player: Magic Johnson

Five rings, three Finals MVPs, two league MVPs and eight All-NBA nods - including seven first-team selections. Magic Johnson was the player of the '80s.

Best game: Game 7 1988 East Semis Celtics vs Hawks

One of the best Game 7s of all-time. Larry Bird and Dominique Wilkins basically told their respective teams to get out of the way and let them cook.

With the game tied at 86 with 10 minutes left to play, Bird and Nique would go shot for shot, blow for blow, with Bird and the Celtics eventually coming out on top, 118-116.

"It was like two gunfighters waiting to blink," Celtics Hall of Famer Kevin McHale said. "There was one stretch that was as pure a form of basketball as you're ever going to see."

Nique finished with a game-high 47 points, and Bird had 34 points - 20 of which came in the fourth.

A game for the ages.

The views expressed here do not represent those of the NBA or its clubs.

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