Long before Kevin Durant told Nets owner Joe Tsai to either trade him or fire general manager Sean Marks and coach Steve Nash, there was an infamous battle between Lakers star Magic Johnson and coach Paul Westhead.
Episode 2 of Hulu’s “Legacy: The True Story of the LA Lakers,” which is set to premiere on Monday, Aug. 15, will cover Johnson’s explosive 1981 trade request.
The Johnson-Westhead relationship started off strong, as Los Angeles finished an incredible 1979-1980 campaign by winning the NBA championship. However, the trust between the two deteriorated, and Westhead found himself out of a job early in the 1981-82 season.
How did the relationship fall apart so quickly?
Why did Magic Johnson request trade from Lakers in 1981?
After earning an All-Star selection and capturing his first title as a rookie, Johnson was bit by the injury bug during the 1980-81 season. He tore cartilage in his left knee and was limited to just 37 games.
He returned for the 1981 NBA Playoffs, but the Lakers lost to the Rockets in the first round. Johnson struggled from the field in the final game of the best-of-three series, scoring 10 points on 2-of-14 shooting.
Johnson signed a a 25-year, $25 million contract with Los Angeles that offseason, but his frustration carried over into the start of the 1981-82 season. He wanted Westhead to implement a fast-paced offense, but Westhead wanted to continue running the offense through Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Johnson reached his boiling point in November 1981. After the Lakers' 113-110 win over the Jazz, he revealed that he was going to speak with team owner Jerry Buss about a trade.
‘‘I can’t play here anymore,’’ Johnson said (via The New York Times). ‘‘I want to leave. I want to be traded.’’
Pat Riley replaces Paul Westhead as Lakers coach
The Lakers fired Westhead less than 24 hours after Johnson went public with his trade request. Buss said that Johnson’s comments had no impact on his decision to dismiss Westhead, who started the season with a 7-4 record.
“Obviously it was a difficult decision for us,” Buss said (via The Times). “There is no way to criticize anybody. I was disappointed in not seeing an exciting team once again. This started after the first or second game.”
Buss initially named Jerry West as the offensive coach and Pat Riley as the defensive coach, but West eliminated any confusion when he declared that Riley would be the Lakers' head coach for the rest of the season.
Under Riley’s leadership, Los Angeles won 50 of its final 71 regular season games, and Johnson nearly averaged a triple-double (18.6 points, 9.6 rebounds and 9.5 assists per game).
The Lakers were dominant during the 1982 NBA Playoffs, winning 12 of their 14 postseason games on the way to another championship. Johnson took home his second NBA Finals MVP trophy.
Riley and Johnson went on to enjoy one of the most successful runs in NBA history, winning four titles in the 1980s. Johnson never played for another NBA team.
It turns out that trade request may have been the best thing that ever happened to Johnson and the Lakers.