After a two-week break for paternity leave, it's time to spin the dial, line up the combination numbers and re-open the vault. Earlier in the NBA's hiatus, we looked back at Bullets playoff games from the 1970s and the 1990s. Today, we go to the 1980s and revisit Game 5 of the 1986 first-round playoff series between the Washington Bullets and the Philadelphia 76ers.
Now, this is a game that older Bullets fans likely wouldn't want to relive. The Bullets not only lost the game, they got blown out, and it ended their season.
But it was also an interesting snapshot into an era of the NBA and of Bullets basketball and, in a way, it encapsulated what the Bullets were in the 1980s. They made the playoffs five straight years from 1983 to 1988 and lost in the first round each time.
In 1986, the Bullets won only 39 games, yet they were the sixth seed. It was an especially bad year in the Eastern Conference, so bad that the Chicago Bulls set an NBA record that still stands as the worst team to ever make the playoffs. They were 30-52.
The Bullets won Game 1 against the Sixers, but fell on the road in Game 5 when basically all of their best players didn't show up. It was a major letdown.
But it was still a basketball time capsule worth looking back on. Here are five takeaways including pictures and GIFs of the best moments...
Bol's network debut
The NBA back then was not even close to what it is now in terms of worldwide reach. It was not far removed from the NBA Finals playing on tape delay and very few games were broadcast nationally. Usually, those national games featured teams like the Lakers and Celtics, not the Washington Bullets.
So this particular game marked the first time Manute Bol played on network television. The Bullets rookie was a person of intrigue because at 7-foot-6, he was the tallest player in NBA history at the time. Remember, this was before Gheorghe Muresan, Shawn Bradley and Yao Ming.
Bol was also a fascinating player because as a rookie he led the league in blocked shots with a ridiculous average of 5.0 per game. He averaged more blocks than he did points (3.7).
Bol playing in his network debut was a big part of the broadcast with color commentator Tommy Heinsohn remarking pregame that "when [Bol] first joined the NBA, a lot of people thought it was for freak value." Heinsohn, though, went on to twice compare Bol's rim-protecting prowess to Bill Russell.
Heinsohn also said later in the game the Bullets training staff put the roster through a strength exam and Bol tested at the level of "a child." He was tall, but extremely skinny, listed at just 200 pounds. And his thin frame was a major disadvantage against Sixers superstar Charles Barkley.
Despite being a foot shorter, Barkley absolutely dominated Bol in this game with his strength and low center of gravity.
Bol had zero points, two rebounds and one block in the game.
Bol had a song
To further illustrate the spectacle that Bol's network debut was, CBS aired a music video for him at halftime. It was called 'Bol-tending' and it was the type of video that was for some reason commonplace around sports in the 1980s and 90s.
Custom rap songs about teams and players were all the rage back then and even as a rookie, Bol had one complete with a killer saxophone solo.
The 80s were in full force
The Bol video was just one example of the remarkable 80s-ness of this game and the broadcast. There were so many things that may have been cool at the time that just aren't that cool anymore.
Like, this starting lineup graphic. It looks like a Prince album cover.
There were also a few hairstyles you just never see in today's NBA. There was the let-it-flow male pattern baldness of Gus Williams:
There was also Jeff Ruland's full and glorious mustache, which made him look like a cop who went undercover as an NBA player:
And you had Tom McMillen's moppy gray hair that made him look like a middle school science teacher:
It seems worth noting that Just For Men didn't come out until 1987, the year after this game was played. And this was actually McMillen's final NBA game. He had already announced his retirement and made it known he was going to run for U.S. Congress as soon as his playing career was over. They mentioned it twice on the broadcast.
Imagine a current NBA player's farewell tour including that as his next step. McMillen, who was a Rhodes Scholar before playing in the NBA, would win that election and two more to serve three terms in the House of Representatives hailing from Maryland's 4th District.
Sixers were loaded with stars
The Sixers had one of the most star-studded NBA teams ever assembled in 1985-86, though some of those stars were up there in age and not the players they once were. They had a whopping five Hall of Famers. That included Barkley, Julius Erving, Moses Malone, Bob McAdoo and Maurice Cheeks.
Malone and McAdoo didn't play in this game due to injuries, Malone because of a fractured eye socket (ouch). But the other three had their way with the Bullets in Game 5.
Barkely, in particular, was unstoppable. He had a triple-double with 19 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists. And he just jumped off the screen as the best player on the floor.
This was a different era where a lot of the players weren't athletic or skilled enough to hang in today's game. But it is pretty obvious Barkley would still be a star. He was just unbelievably powerful and fast in the open floor.
Dr. J still had it
Erving may have been 35 years old, but he was still one of the best athletes on the court. He made a series of plays that were reminiscent of the ageless wonder we see these days in LeBron James.
Erving had a few vicious dunks that did not look like a guy at the end of his career:
And this one play where he leapt over the press section really stood out:
The NBA has come a long way since the 80s, but Barkley and Dr. J were both before their time. And the Bullets may now be the Wizards, but they are still waiting to break through in the playoffs, even decades later.
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