Who is Magic Johnson: Discover the legendary NBA superstar's journey as a 12-time All-Star, Lakers icon, and Hall of Famer, while delving into his impactful activism, inspiring battles, and lasting legacy in basketball history.
Magic Johnson: The Basketball Legend Who Transcended the Court
Earvin "Magic" Johnson Jr., a legendary American professional basketball player, is widely regarded as the best point guard in NBA history. Throughout his 13-year career, Johnson dominated the court, playing point guard, shooting guard, and power forward positions with exceptional skill. He became an immediate NBA superstar after leading Michigan State to a national championship in 1979 and joining the Los Angeles Lakers as the first overall pick in the 1979 NBA draft.
During his tenure with the Lakers, Magic Johnson steered the team to five NBA championships in their illustrious Showtime era. However, his career faced an abrupt halt in 1991 when he announced his HIV diagnosis. Despite initial protests from fellow players, Johnson made a triumphant return in the 1992 All-Star Game, securing the All-Star MVP Award. He retired once more, only to make a brief comeback in 1996 before his final retirement.
Throughout his illustrious career, Johnson's accolades include three NBA MVP Awards, three NBA Finals MVP Awards, nine NBA Finals appearances, and 12 All-Star Game selections. With an impressive average of 11.19 assists per game in regular seasons and 12.35 in playoffs, he holds the NBA record for the most career assists in playoffs and is the all-time leader in average assists per game.
Magic Johnson's prowess on the court extended beyond the NBA, with his membership in the 1992 United States men's Olympic basketball team, famously known as "The Dream Team." Post-NBA, he formed the Magic Johnson All-Stars, an exhibition team that toured worldwide.
As a testament to his legendary status, Johnson was inducted twice into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame and was honored as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History. His rivalry and friendship with Boston Celtics icon Larry Bird added to his storied career.
Since retiring, Magic Johnson has been an influential figure in HIV/AIDS activism, dispelling stereotypes and advocating for safe sex. His entrepreneurial pursuits and philanthropy have further solidified his status as one of America's most influential black businessmen, with ownership stakes in the Lakers, Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Sparks, and Los Angeles F.C. (LAFC) of Major League Soccer. Through his playing career and sports ownership, Johnson boasts an impressive 10 NBA championships, five as a player and five as a Lakers minority owner.
In conclusion, Magic Johnson's impact as an American basketball player extends beyond the NBA court, influencing both the world of sports and society at large. His legacy, both as a player and an activist, continues to resonate, inspiring future generations to break barriers and overcome adversity.
The Formative Years: How Magic Johnson's Early Life Shaped a Basketball Legend
Born in Lansing, Michigan, Earvin Johnson Jr. grew up in a household that valued hard work and perseverance. His parents, Earvin Sr., a General Motors assembly worker, and Christine, a school janitor, instilled these values in Johnson and his nine siblings. Despite enduring teasing from neighborhood children who nicknamed him "Garbage Man," Johnson remained committed to helping his father with janitorial tasks and garbage collection.
Basketball became Johnson's passion at a young age, with Bill Russell, Earl Monroe, and Marques Haynes as his childhood idols. Coming from an athletic family, Johnson learned invaluable lessons about the game from his father, a former high school basketball player in Mississippi, and his mother, a North Carolina native who played basketball and watched her brothers excel at the sport.
As Johnson entered eighth grade, he was already a dominant junior high player, once scoring a remarkable 48 points in a single game. He anticipated joining the successful basketball program at Sexton High School, just five blocks from his home. However, his plans changed when he discovered that he would be bused to the predominantly white Everett High School, as his siblings Pearl and Larry had been the previous year.
Johnson's siblings had faced racism and a hostile environment at Everett. Despite initial hesitation and challenges, including a near-fight with a teammate during practice, Johnson embraced his new school, ultimately becoming a leader among the small group of Black students. Reflecting on his experience in his autobiography, "My Life," Johnson acknowledged that attending Everett High School was a transformative experience that allowed him to better understand, communicate, and deal with people from different backgrounds.
The challenges and triumphs of Magic Johnson's early life played a significant role in shaping the legendary basketball player he would become. Through his experiences, Johnson honed his skills and learned valuable lessons that extended beyond the basketball court, preparing him to navigate the world as a well-rounded individual.
The Emergence of "Magic": Johnson's High School Triumphs and Tribulations
It was during his sophomore year at Everett High School that Earvin Johnson Jr. first earned the nickname "Magic." The 15-year-old achieved an impressive triple-double, scoring 36 points, 18 rebounds, and 16 assists in a single game. This performance caught the attention of Lansing State Journal sports writer Fred Stabley Jr., who bestowed the moniker upon Johnson. Despite his mother's concerns that the nickname was sacrilegious due to her devout Christian beliefs, the name stuck.
In his final high school season, "Magic" Johnson led Everett to an outstanding 27-1 win-loss record, averaging 28.8 points and 16.8 rebounds per game. His extraordinary skills propelled the team to a thrilling overtime victory in the state championship game. Johnson dedicated this win to his late best friend, Reggie Chastine, who had tragically passed away in a car accident the previous summer. Chastine's influence on Johnson's development as a player and person was immense, and he credited Chastine for much of his success.
The bond between Johnson and Chastine was unbreakable, as they spent countless hours playing basketball or cruising in Chastine's car. Upon hearing the news of Chastine's death, Johnson was inconsolable, running from his home in tears. As Johnson's high school career concluded, he earned two All-State selections and was recognized as the best high school player in Michigan's history. Additionally, he was named to the inaugural McDonald's All-American team, which competed in the 1977 Capital Classic.
Magic Johnson's high school years were marked by both triumph and heartbreak, shaping the basketball legend's character and resolve. These experiences not only fueled his passion for the game but also taught him the importance of resilience, friendship, and dedication.
Magic Johnson's College Career: From Michigan State to NBA Stardom
Despite being sought after by numerous prestigious colleges, including Indiana and UCLA, Earvin "Magic" Johnson chose to stay close to home. His decision ultimately came down to Michigan and Michigan State, with the latter winning him over after coach Jud Heathcote promised him the point guard position and the existing talent on the team's roster.
Initially, Johnson's ambitions didn't involve a professional basketball career; he was focused on his communication studies major and his dream of becoming a television commentator. In his freshman year at Michigan State, Johnson, alongside future NBA draftees Greg Kelser, Jay Vincent, and Mike Brkovich, boasted an average of 17.0 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game. This impressive performance led the Spartans to a 25-5 record, the Big Ten Conference title, and a spot in the 1978 NCAA tournament. Although they reached the Elite Eight, the Spartans fell to the eventual national champion, Kentucky.
In the 1978-79 season, Michigan State returned to the NCAA tournament, making it all the way to the championship game against Indiana State, led by senior Larry Bird. The matchup, which remains the most-watched college basketball game in history, ended in a 75-64 victory for Michigan State. Johnson was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four and was selected for the 1978-79 All-American team.
After averaging 17.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 7.9 assists per game during his two-year college career, Johnson entered the 1979 NBA draft. In 1995, following Jud Heathcote's retirement as coach of the Spartans, Johnson returned to the Breslin Center to participate in the Jud Heathcote All-Star Tribute Game, leading all scorers with 39 points. Johnson's time at Michigan State laid the foundation for his legendary professional basketball career, propelling him to NBA superstardom.
Magic Johnson's Legendary NBA Career
Making a Splash as a Rookie (1979-1980)
Magic Johnson was selected first overall in the 1979 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Lakers. Johnson was thrilled to play alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the team's 7 ft 2 in center who eventually became the leading scorer in NBA history. During his rookie season, Johnson played as a point guard and recorded impressive averages of 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game. He was also named an NBA All-Star Game starter and was selected to the NBA All-Rookie Team. The Lakers finished the season with a 60-22 record and eventually won the 1980 NBA Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers, with Johnson becoming the only rookie to win the NBA Finals MVP award.
Overcoming Challenges and Building a Legacy (1980-1983)
In the early 1980s, Johnson experienced both injuries and off-court controversies, but he continued to excel on the court. Despite missing 45 games due to a knee injury, Johnson led the Lakers to multiple playoff appearances and signed a then-record-breaking 25-year, $25 million contract with the team. Under the leadership of new coach Pat Riley, Johnson averaged 18.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 9.5 assists per game, earning a spot on the All-NBA Second Team.
Epic Rivalry with the Celtics (1983-1987)
During the mid-1980s, Johnson's Lakers and Larry Bird's Celtics established one of the most iconic rivalries in NBA history. The two teams met in the NBA Finals three times during this period, with the Lakers winning two championships. Johnson's clutch performances and leadership, including a last-second game-winning hook shot in the 1987 NBA Finals, solidified his status as a legendary player. Throughout this period, Johnson maintained impressive statistics and earned numerous accolades, including his first regular season MVP award.
Climbing to the Top (1987–1991)
In the build-up to the 1987-88 NBA season, Lakers coach Pat Riley confidently vowed that the team would defend their NBA title, a feat that hadn't been achieved since the Celtics in the 1969 NBA Finals. Johnson delivered another strong season, despite missing 10 games due to a groin injury. The Lakers faced the Detroit Pistons, known as the "Bad Boys" for their aggressive playstyle, in the 1988 NBA Finals. After a close series, the Lakers emerged victorious, marking Johnson's fifth and final NBA championship.
Johnson continued to excel, earning his second MVP award during the 1988-89 season. The Lakers made it to the NBA Finals again, but after Johnson suffered a hamstring injury in Game 2, the Pistons swept the Lakers. In the 1990-91 season, under new head coach Mike Dunleavy, Johnson won his third MVP award. The Lakers reached the NBA Finals, where they faced Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls, but ultimately lost 4-1.
Public HIV Announcement and Olympic Glory (1991–1992)
In a shocking turn of events, Johnson announced his immediate retirement on November 7, 1991, after testing positive for HIV. He vowed to dedicate his life to fighting the disease. Despite retiring, Johnson was selected for the 1992 NBA All-Star Game and the 1992 US Olympic "Dream Team," which went on to win the gold medal.
Post-Olympics, Comebacks, and All-Star Tours
Johnson attempted to return to the NBA several times, first as a coach and then as a player, but faced setbacks and opposition from active players. After losing in the first round of the playoffs, Johnson retired permanently in 1996. Outside the NBA, Johnson formed the Magic Johnson All-Stars, a team of former NBA and college players, who toured the world playing exhibition games. Johnson continued to play with the team until the early 2000s, engaging in memorable games and achieving a record of 55-0.
Magic Johnson and Larry Bird: The Rivalry That Transformed Basketball
In 1979, the seeds of a legendary rivalry were sown when Magic Johnson's Michigan State defeated Larry Bird's Indiana State in the NCAA finals. The rivalry between these two iconic basketball players would continue into the NBA, reaching a fever pitch as the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers faced off in three of the four NBA Finals between 1984 and 1987, with the Lakers winning two of the three.
For Johnson, the 82-game regular season consisted of 80 ordinary games and two special Lakers-Celtics games. Bird echoed this sentiment, confessing that he would check Johnson's box score every morning. The appeal of the Johnson-Bird rivalry extended beyond the two players, representing contrasts like the Lakers versus the Celtics, Hollywood glamour against Boston/Indiana blue-collar grit, and the dynamics between black and white players.
Their rivalry played a crucial role in revitalizing the NBA, which had suffered from declining interest and low TV ratings. Both traditionalists, drawn to Bird's Indiana roots, and those captivated by Johnson's flashy style became new fans, helping to save the league from bankruptcy.
Despite their on-court rivalry, Johnson and Bird developed a close friendship off the court, beginning with the filming of a 1984 Converse shoe advertisement. When Bird retired in 1992, Johnson attended the ceremony, calling him a "friend forever." Bird returned the favor by inducting Johnson into the Hall of Fame.
In 2009, the two collaborated with journalist Jackie MacMullan on a book, When the Game Was Ours, detailing their rivalry and friendship. HBO released a documentary, Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals, directed by Ezra Edelman, in 2010, further exploring their iconic rivalry.
Magic Johnson: The Legendary Point Guard Who Revolutionized the Game
In his 905-game NBA career, Magic Johnson amassed 17,707 points, 6,559 rebounds, and 10,141 assists, resulting in career averages of 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 11.2 assists per game. Johnson holds the record for the highest assists per game average in NBA history. He shares the single-game playoff record for assists (24), has the Finals record for assists in a game (21), and boasts the most playoff assists (2,346). Johnson is the only player to average 12 assists in an NBA Finals series, achieving this feat six times.
Johnson's innovative and fast-paced style of play, known as "Showtime," featured no-look passes, pinpoint alley-oops, spinning feeds, and overhand bullets under the basket. His extraordinary court vision allowed him to dominate games without scoring, orchestrating the offense and distributing the ball with flair. Johnson's unique ability to play point guard at 6 ft 9 in (2.06 m) made him a versatile threat, and he ranks third all-time in career triple-double games, behind only Oscar Robertson and Russell Westbrook.
Magic Johnson's accolades include being voted one of the 50 Greatest Players of All Time by the NBA in 1996, selection to the NBA 75th Anniversary Team in 2021, and induction into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. ESPN's SportsCentury ranked him No. 17 in their "50 Greatest Athletes of the 20th Century," while ESPN.com and Bleacher Report both named him the greatest point guard of all time. The Athletic ranked him the 5th greatest player in NBA history and the highest-ranked point guard in 2022. Johnson's achievements in individual games have been recognized as top moments in the NBA, and he received the NBA Lifetime Achievement Award (shared with Larry Bird) in 2019. In 2022, the NBA named the Western Conference Finals MVP trophy in his honor, while the Eastern Conference trophy honors Bird.
Magic Johnson: Beyond Basketball - Personal Life, Business Ventures, and Activism
Family and Personal Life
In 1981, Magic Johnson fathered his first son, Andre Johnson, with Melissa Mitchell. Andre was raised by his mother but maintained a close relationship with Johnson, eventually working as a marketing director for Magic Johnson Enterprises. In 1991, Johnson married Earlitha "Cookie" Kelly in Lansing, Michigan. The couple has one son, Earvin III ("EJ"), who is openly gay and starred in the reality show Rich Kids of Beverly Hills. They also adopted a daughter, Elisa, in 1995. Johnson resides in Beverly Hills with a vacation home in Dana Point, California. He is a devout Christian, and his faith is central to his life.
Friendship with Jerry Buss and Lakers Legacy
Magic Johnson had a profound relationship with Lakers owner Jerry Buss, whom he considered both a mentor and father figure. Buss played a crucial role in Johnson's life, introducing him to significant Los Angeles business contacts and involving him in the Lakers organization. Johnson credits Buss for the business knowledge that allowed him to become part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Business and Media Ventures
Johnson's entrepreneurial spirit led him to establish Magic Johnson Enterprises, a conglomerate company with a net worth of $700 million. Subsidiaries include Magic Johnson Productions, Magic Johnson Theaters, and Magic Johnson Entertainment. In addition to these ventures, Johnson also launched the Magic Card, a prepaid MasterCard aimed at helping low-income individuals save money and participate in electronic commerce. Johnson has also invested in urban real estate and was part-owner of the Los Angeles Lakers until 2010.
Sports Franchise Ownership
In 2012, Johnson partnered with Guggenheim Partners and Stan Kasten to purchase the Los Angeles Dodgers, later adding the Los Angeles Sparks and Los Angeles Football Club to his sports franchise ownership. In 2023, Johnson joined an investment group to bid on the NFL's Washington Commanders.
A dedicated supporter of the Democratic Party, Johnson has endorsed various politicians, including Phil Angelides, Hillary Clinton, and Barack Obama.
HIV and AIDS Activism
After publicly announcing his HIV diagnosis in 1991, Johnson founded the Magic Johnson Foundation to combat HIV and promote HIV/AIDS education. He has also served as a United Nations Messenger of Peace and worked to break down stigmas surrounding the disease.
Frequently Asked Questions
Why did Magic Johnson leave the NBA?
Magic Johnson, a legendary American professional basketball player and 12-time All-Star, left the NBA primarily due to his HIV diagnosis. In November 1991, Johnson announced his retirement from the Los Angeles Lakers after learning that he had contracted the virus. At the time, there was significant stigma surrounding HIV and limited understanding of the disease, which contributed to his decision to retire. Despite his departure from the NBA, Magic Johnson remained an influential figure in sports, activism, and beyond.
Magic Johnson Quotes
Here are some of Magic Johnson’s most famous quotes.
All kids need is a little help, a little hope and somebody who believes in them.
When you face a crisis, you know who your true friends are.
Ask not what your teammates can do for you. Ask what you can do for your teammates.
To see more Magic Johnson quotes, we recommend visiting the Magic Johnson Quote section in Quotes Analysis.
We hope we have been helpful to you in this "Who is Magic Johnson" article, and we hope you have a better understanding of who this amazing sportsman is!