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On this day in NBA Finals history: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar becomes oldest Finals MVP

After a horrendous Game 1, Abdul-Jabbar dominated the 1985 series

In Game 1 of the 1985 NBA Finals, time appeared to have finally caught up to Los Angeles Lakers captain Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

The then-38-year-old big man came out against the Boston Celtics oddly flat and rusty, as if he’d racked up too many miles on his personal odometer. Abdul-Jabbar, the greatest scorer in the history of the NBA, recorded just 12 points and three rebounds and was outplayed by Boston’s then-30-year-old center Robert Parish, who dropped 18 points and eight rebounds.

After Boston’s series-opening 148-114 thumping of the Lakers, known as the “Memorial Day Massacre,” Lakers head coach Pat Riley didn’t mince words in discussion of his superstar’s lackluster night. “I was embarrassed,” Riley said of the outing, for which Abdul-Jabbar apologized to each of his teammates the next day in a team meeting.

Game 1, however, was an outlier for Abdul-Jabbar, because for the rest of the series he was absolutely spectacular, averaging 30.2 points, 11.3 rebounds, 6.5 assists and 2.0 blocks in the Lakers’ four wins.

At some point between Games 2 and 6, Abdul-Jabbar rediscovered the fountain of youth. Maybe it was during his team’s film session after Game 1, when he abandoned his usual seat in the back to sit in the front row.

“His body language said, ‘Let me see all my mistakes. Let me see that horror show.’ That’s how Kareem was,” Riley told Sports Illustrated.

Or maybe it was when Abdul-Jabbar asked Riley if his father, Lew Alcindor Sr., could ride the team bus to the Boston Garden heading into Game 2. However he did it, Kareem went back to being Kareem, capping off the series with 29 points, on 13-of-21 shooting, and seven rebounds in a closeout 111-100 Game 6 win.

At 38 years and 54 days old, Abdul-Jabbar was named Finals MVP, the oldest in NBA history.

He also claimed the honor in 1971 at age 24. In the 14 years between Abdul-Jabbar’s two Finals MVPs, the Vietnam War ended, Team USA hockey upset the Soviet Union in the “Miracle on Ice” at the 1980 Olympics and Michael Jackson dropped Thriller, the best-selling album of all time. A lot had changed, but Abdul-Jabbar remained the same. He was still a proven winner.

Aaron Dodson is an associate editor at The Undefeated. Often mistaken for Aaron Dobson, formerly of the New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals, he was one letter away from being an NFL wide receiver.