Magic Johnson

Magic

Earvin "Magic" Johnson Jr. (born August 14, 1959) is a retired American professional basketball player who played point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association (NBA) for 13 seasons. After winning championships in high school and college, Johnson was selected first overall in the 1979 NBA draft by the Lakers. He won a championship and an NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award in his rookie season, and won four more championships with the Lakers during the 1980s. Johnson retired abruptly in 1991 after announcing that he had contracted HIV, but returned to play in the 1992 All-Star Game, winning the All-Star MVP Award. After protests from his fellow players, he retired again for four years, but returned in 1996, at age 36, to play 32 games for the Lakers before retiring for the third and final time.

Johnson's career achievements include three NBA MVP Awards, nine NBA Finals appearances, twelve All-Star games, and ten All-NBA First and Second Team nominations. He led the league in regular-season assists four times, and is the NBA's all-time leader in average assists per game, at 11.2.[2] Johnson was a member of the 1992 United States men's Olympic basketball team ("The Dream Team"), which won the Olympic gold medal in 1992. After leaving the NBA in 1992, Johnson formed the Magic Johnson All-Stars, a barnstorming team that travelled around the world playing exhibition games.[3] Johnson was honored as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996.

Johnson is one of only seven players in history to win an NCAA Championship, an NBA Championship, and an Olympic Gold Medal.[4] He became a two-time inductee into the Basketball Hall of Fame—being enshrined in 2002 for his individual career, and again in 2010 as a member of the "Dream Team".[5] He was rated the greatest NBA point guard of all time by ESPN in 2007.[6] His friendship and rivalry with Boston Celtics star Larry Bird, whom he faced in the 1979 NCAA finals and three NBA championship series, are well documented.

Since his retirement, Johnson has been an advocate for HIV/AIDS prevention and safe sex,[5] as well as an entrepreneur,[7] philanthropist,[8] broadcaster and motivational speaker.[9] His public announcement of his HIV-positive status in 1991 helped dispel the stereotype, still widely held at the time, that HIV was a "gay disease" that heterosexuals need not worry about; his bravery in making this announcement was widely commended.[10] Named by Ebony Magazine as one of America's most influential black businessmen in 2009,[11] Johnson has numerous business interests, and was a part-owner of the Lakers for several years. Johnson also is part of a group of investors that purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012 and the Los Angeles Sparks in 2014.

Early life

Earvin Johnson Jr. was born in Lansing, Michigan to Earvin Sr., a General Motors assembly worker, and Christine, a school custodian.[12] Johnson, who had six siblings,[13][14][15] was influenced by his parents' strong work ethic. Johnson's mother spent many hours after work each night cleaning their home and preparing the next day's meals, while his father did janitorial work at a used car lot and collected garbage, all while never missing a day at General Motors. Earvin Jr. would often help his father on the garbage route, and he was teased by neighborhood children who called him "Garbage Man."[16]

Johnson grew up in Lansing, and came to love basketball as a youngster. His favorite basketball player was Bill Russell, whom he admired more for his many championships than his athletic ability.[17] He also idolized players such as Earl Monroe and Marques Haynes,[18] and practiced "all day."[5] Magic Johnson came from an athletic family. His father played high school basketball in his home state of Mississippi,[19] and Johnson learned the finer points about the game from him. Johnson's mother, originally from North Carolina,[19] had also played basketball as a child, and she grew up watching her brothers play the game.[17]

By the time he had reached the eighth grade, Johnson had begun to think about a future in basketball. He had become a dominant junior high player, once scoring 48 points in a game.[14] Johnson looked forward to playing at Sexton High School a school with a very successful basketball team and a great tradition that also happened to be only five blocks from his home. His plans underwent a dramatic change when he learned that he would be bused to predominately white Everett High School[17][20] instead of going to Sexton, which was predominately black.[14][21] Johnson's sister Pearl and his brother Larry had bused to Everett the previous year and did not have a pleasant experience. There were incidents of racism, with rocks being thrown at buses carrying black students, and white parents refusing to send their children to school. Larry was kicked off the basketball team after a confrontation during practice, prompting him to beg Earvin not to play. Johnson did join the basketball team but became angry after several days when his new teammates ignored him during practice, not even passing the ball. He nearly got into a fight with another player before head coach George Fox intervened. Eventually Johnson accepted his situation, and the small group of black students looked to him as their leader.[14] When recalling the events in his autobiography, My Life, he talked about how his time at Everett had changed him:

As I look back on it today, I see the whole picture very differently. It's true that I hated missing out on Sexton. And the first few months, I was miserable at Everett. But being bused to Everett turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. It got me out of my own little world and taught me how to understand white people, how to communicate and deal with them.[14]

Johnson was first dubbed "Magic" as a 15-year-old sophomore playing for Everett High School, when he recorded a triple-double of 36 points, 18 rebounds and 16 assists.[5] After the game, Fred Stabley Jr., a sports writer for the Lansing State Journal, gave him the moniker[22] despite the belief of Johnson's mother, a Christian, that the name was sacrilegious.[5] In his final high school season, Johnson led Lansing Everett to a 27–1 win–loss record while averaging 28.8 points and 16.8 rebounds per game,[5] and took his team to an overtime victory in the state championship game.[23] Johnson dedicated the championship victory to his best friend Reggie Chastine, who was killed in a car accident the previous summer.[24] He gave Chastine much of the credit for his development as a basketball player and as a person,[25] saying years later, "I doubted myself back then."[26] Johnson and Chastine were almost always together, playing basketball or riding around in Chastine's car.[16] Upon learning of Chastine's death, Magic ran from his home, crying uncontrollably.[26] Johnson, who finished his high school career with two All-State selections, was considered at the time to be the best high school player ever to come out of Michigan[24] and was also named to the 1977 McDonald's All-American team.[27]

Michigan State University

Although Johnson was recruited by several top-ranked colleges such as Indiana and UCLA, he decided to play close to home.[28] His college decision came down to Michigan and Michigan State in East Lansing. He ultimately decided to attend Michigan State when coach Jud Heathcote told him he could play the point guard position. The talent already on Michigan State's roster also drew him to the program.[29]

Johnson did not initially aspire to play professionally, focusing instead on his communication studies major and on his desire to become a television commentator.[30] Playing with future NBA draftees Greg Kelser, Jay Vincent and Mike Brkovich, Johnson averaged 17.0 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 7.4 assists per game as a freshman, and led the Spartans to a 25–5 record, the Big Ten Conference title, and a berth in the 1978 NCAA Tournament.[5] The Spartans reached the Elite Eight, but lost narrowly to eventual national champion Kentucky.[31]

During the 1978–79 season, Michigan State again qualified for the NCAA Tournament, where they advanced to the championship game and faced Indiana State, which was led by senior Larry Bird. In what was the most-watched college basketball game ever,[32] Michigan State defeated Indiana State 75–64, and Johnson was voted Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.[23] After two years in college, during which he averaged 17.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 7.9 assists per game, Johnson entered the 1979 NBA draft.[33] After the 1994–95 season, Heathcote stepped down as coach of the Spartans, and on June 8, 1995, Johnson returned to the Breslin Center to play in the Jud Heathcote All-Star Tribute Game. He led all scorers with 39 points.[34]

Rookie season in the NBA (1979–80)

Johnson was drafted first overall in 1979 by the Los Angeles Lakers. Johnson said that what was "most amazing" about joining the Lakers was the chance to play alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,[35] the team's 7 ft 2 in (2.18 m) center who became the leading scorer in NBA history.[36] Despite Abdul-Jabbar's dominance, he had failed to win a championship with the Lakers, and Johnson was expected to help them achieve that goal.[37] Johnson averaged 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game for the season, was selected to the NBA All-Rookie Team, and was named an NBA All-Star Game starter.[38]

The Lakers compiled a 60–22 record in the regular season and reached the 1980 NBA Finals,[39] in which they faced the Philadelphia 76ers, who were led by forward Julius Erving. The Lakers took a 3–2 lead in the series, but Abdul-Jabbar, who averaged 33 points a game in the series,[40] sprained his ankle in Game 5 and could not play in Game 6.[37] Paul Westhead decided to start Johnson at center in Game 6; Johnson recorded 42 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, and 3 steals in a 123–107 win, while playing guard, forward, and center at different times during the game.[37] Johnson became the only rookie to win the NBA Finals MVP award,[37] and his clutch performance is still regarded as one of the finest in NBA history.[6][41][42] He also became one of four players to win NCAA and NBA championships in consecutive years.[43]

Ups and downs (1980–83)

Early in the 1980–81 season, Johnson was sidelined after he suffered torn cartilage in his left knee. He missed 45 games,[33] and said that his rehabilitation was the "most down" he had ever felt.[44] Johnson returned before the start of the 1981 playoffs, but the Lakers' then-assistant and future head coach Pat Riley later said Johnson's much-anticipated return made the Lakers a "divided team".[45] The 54-win Lakers faced the 40–42 Houston Rockets in the first round of playoffs,[46][47] where Houston upset the Lakers 2–1 after Johnson airballed a last-second shot in Game 3.[48]

In 1981, after the 1980–81 season, Johnson signed a 25-year, $25-million contract with the Lakers, which was the highest-paying contract in sports history up to that point.[49] Early in the 1981–82 season, Johnson had a heated dispute with Westhead, who Johnson said made the Lakers "slow" and "predictable".[50] After Johnson demanded to be traded, Lakers owner Jerry Buss fired Westhead and replaced him with Riley. Although Johnson denied responsibility for Westhead's firing,[51] he was booed across the league, even by Laker fans.[5] However, Buss was also unhappy with the Lakers offense and had intended on firing Westhead days before the Westhead–Johnson altercation, but assistant GM Jerry West and GM Bill Sharman had convinced Buss to delay his decision.[52] Despite his off-court troubles, Johnson averaged 18.6 points, 9.6 rebounds, 9.5 assists, and a league-high 2.7 steals per game, and was voted a member of the All-NBA Second Team.[33] He also joined Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson as the only NBA players to tally at least 700 points, 700 rebounds, and 700 assists in the same season.[23] The Lakers advanced through the 1982 playoffs and faced Philadelphia for the second time in three years in the 1982 NBA Finals. After a triple-double from Johnson in Game 6, the Lakers defeated the Sixers 4–2, as Johnson won his second NBA Finals MVP award.[53] During the championship series against the Sixers, Johnson averaged 16.2 points on .533 shooting, 10.8 rebounds, 8.0 assists, and 2.5 steals per game.[54] Johnson later said that his third season was when the Lakers first became a great team,[55] and he credited their success to Riley.[56]

At the 1982 All-Star Game, Bird scored 19 points en route to winning the All-Star Game MVP Award.[26] At the conclusion of the season, he earned his first All-Defensive Team selection.[17] He eventually finished runner-up in Most Valuable Player Award voting to Moses Malone.[26] In the Conference Finals, the Celtics faced the 76ers for the third consecutive year, losing in seven games.[27] Boston's misfortunes continued into the next season, with Bird again finishing second in MVP voting to Malone and the team losing in the Conference Semifinals to the Milwaukee Bucks.[26][28]

During the 1982–83 NBA season, Johnson averaged 16.8 points, 10.5 assists, and 8.6 rebounds per game and earned his first All-NBA First Team nomination.[33] The Lakers again reached the Finals, and for a third time faced the Sixers, who featured center Moses Malone as well as Erving.[57] With Johnson's teammates Norm Nixon, James Worthy and Bob McAdoo all hobbled by injuries, the Lakers were swept by the Sixers, and Malone was crowned the Finals MVP.[57] In a losing effort against Philadelphia, Johnson averaged 19.0 points on .403 shooting, 12.5 assists, and 7.8 rebounds per game.[58]