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). 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. Johnson was a member of the “Dream Team”, the U.S. basketball team that won the Olympic gold medal in 1992.
Johnson was honored as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996, and enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. He was rated the greatest NBA point guard of all time by ESPN in 2007. His friendship and rivalry with Boston Celtics star Larry Bird, whom he faced in the 1979 NCAA finals and three NBA championship series, were well documented. Since his retirement, Johnson has been an advocate for HIV/AIDS prevention and safe sex, as well as an entrepreneur, philanthropist, broadcaster and motivational speaker. Johnson was a part-owner of the Lakers for several years, and was part of a group that purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012.
Earvin Johnson Jr. was born to Earvin Sr., a General Motors assembly worker, and Christine, a school custodian. Johnson grew up in Lansing, Michigan, and came to love basketball as a youngster, idolizing players such as Earl Monroe and Marques Haynes, and practicing “all day”.
Johnson was first dubbed “Magic” as a 15-year-old sophomore playing for Lansing’s Everett High School, when he recorded a triple-double of 36 points, 18 rebounds and 16 assists. After the game, Fred Stabley Jr., a sports writer for the Lansing State Journal, gave him the moniker despite the belief of Johnson’s mother, a Christian, that the name was sacrilegious. 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, and took his team to an overtime victory in the state championship game.
Although Johnson was recruited by several top-ranked colleges such as Indiana and UCLA, he decided to play close to home. His college decision came down to the University of Michigan and Michigan State University in East Lansing. He ultimately decided to attend Michigan State when its 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.
Johnson did not initially aspire to play professionally, focusing instead on his communication studies major and on his desire to become a television commentator. 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. The Spartans reached the Elite Eight, but lost narrowly to eventual national champion Kentucky.
During the 1978–79 season, Michigan State again qualified for the NCAA Tournament, where they advanced to the championship game and faced Indiana State University, which was led by senior Larry Bird. In what was the most-watched college basketball game ever, Michigan State defeated Indiana State 75–64, and Johnson was voted Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. After two years in college, during which he averaged 17.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 7.9 assists per game, Johnson was drafted in the 1979 NBA Draft.
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, the team’s 7 ft 2 in (2.18 m) center who became the leading scorer in NBA history. 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. 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.
The Lakers compiled a 60–22 record in the regular season and reached the 1980 NBA Finals, 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,sprained his ankle in Game 5 and could not play in Game 6. 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.Johnson became the only rookie to win the NBA Finals MVP award, and his clutch performance is still regarded as one of the finest in NBA history. He also became one of four players to win NCAA and NBA championships in consecutive years.
Early in the 1980–81 season, Johnson was sidelined after he suffered torn cartilage in his left knee. He missed 45 games, and said that his rehabilitation was the “most down” he had ever felt. 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”.The 54-win Lakers faced the 40–42 Houston Rockets in the first round of playoffs,where Houston upset the Lakers 2–1 after Johnson airballed a last-second shot in Game 3.
During the off-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. At the beginning of the 1981–82 season, Johnson had a heated dispute with Westhead, who Johnson said made the Lakers “slow” and “predictable”. 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, he was booed across the league, even by Lakers’ fans.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. 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.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.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.Johnson later said that his third season was when the Lakers first became a great team, and he credited their success to Riley.
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. The Lakers again reached the Finals, and for a third time faced the Sixers, who featured center Moses Malone as well as Erving. 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. In a losing effort against Philadelphia, Johnson averaged 19.0 points on .403 shooting, 12.5 assists, and 7.8 rebounds per game.
In the 1984–85 regular season, Johnson averaged 18.3 points, 12.6 assists, and 6.2 rebounds per game and led the Lakers into the 1985 NBA Finals, where they faced the Celtics again. The series started poorly for the Lakers when they allowed an NBA Finals record 148 points to the Celtics in a 34-point loss in Game1.However, Abdul-Jabbar, who was now 38 years old, scored 30 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in Game 2, and his 36 points in a Game 5 win were instrumental in establishing a 3–2 lead for Los Angeles.After the Lakers defeated the Celtics in six games, Abdul-Jabbar and Johnson, who averaged 18.3 points on .494 shooting, 14.0 assists, and 6.8 rebounds per game in the championship series, said the Finals win was the highlight of their careers.
Johnson again averaged a double-double in the 1985–86 NBA season, with 18.8 points, 12.6 assists, and 5.9 rebounds per game.The Lakers advanced to the Western Conference Finals, but were unable to defeat the Houston Rockets, who advanced to the Finals in five games. In the next season, Johnson averaged a career-high of 23.9 points, as well as 12.2 assists and 6.3 rebounds per game, and earned his first regular season MVP award.The Lakers met the Celtics for the third time in the NBA Finals, and in Game 4 Johnson hit a last-second hook shot over Celtics big men Parish and Kevin McHale to win the game 107–106.The game-winning shot, which Johnson dubbed his “junior, junior, junior sky-hook”,helped Los Angeles defeat Boston in six games. Johnson was awarded his third Finals MVP title after averaging 26.2 points on .541 shooting, 13.0 assists, 8.0 rebounds, and 2.33 steals per game.
Before the 1987–88 NBA season, Lakers coach Pat Riley publicly promised that they would defend the NBA title, even though no team had won consecutive titles since the Celtics did so in the 1969 NBA Finals. Johnson had another productive season with averages of 19.6 points, 11.9 assists, and 6.2 rebounds per game. In the 1988 playoffs, the Lakers survived two 4–3 series against the Utah Jazz and the Dallas Mavericks to reach the Finals and face Thomas and the Detroit Pistons, known as the “Bad Boys” for their physical style of play.Johnson and Thomas greeted each other with a kiss on the cheek before the opening tip of Game 1, which they called a display of brotherly love. After the teams split the first six games, Lakers forward and Finals MVP James Worthy had his first career triple-double of 36 points, 16 rebounds, and 10 assists, and led his team to a 108–105 win. Despite not being named MVP, Johnson had a strong championship series, averaging 21.1 points on .550 shooting, 13.0 assists, and 5.7 rebounds per game. It was the fifth and final NBA championship of his career.
In the 1988–89 NBA season, Johnson’s 22.5 points, 12.8 assists, and 7.9 rebounds per game earned him his second MVP award, and the Lakers reached the 1989 NBA Finals, in which they again faced the Pistons. However, after Johnson went down with a hamstring injury in Game 2, the Lakers were no match for the Pistons, who swept them 4–0.
Playing without Abdul-Jabbar for the first time, Johnson won his third MVP awardafter a strong 1989–90 NBA season in which he averaged 22.3 points, 11.5 assists, and 6.6 rebounds per game.However, the Lakers bowed out to the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference semifinals, which was the Lakers’ earliest playoffs elimination in nine years.Johnson performed well during the 1990–91 NBA season, with averages of 19.4 points, 12.5 assists, and 7.0 rebounds per game, and the Lakers reached the 1991 NBA Finals. There they faced the Chicago Bulls, led by shooting guard Michael Jordan, a five-time scoring champion regarded as the finest player of his era. Although the series was portrayed as a matchup between Johnson and Jordan, Bulls forward Scottie Pippen defended effectively against Johnson. Despite two triple-doubles from Johnson during the series, finals MVP Jordan led his team to a 4–1 win. In the last championship series of his career, Johnson averaged 18.6 points on .431 shooting, 12.4 assists, and 8.0 rebounds per game.
After a physical before the 1991–92 NBA season, Johnson discovered that he had tested positive for HIV. In a press conference held on November 7, 1991, Johnson made a public announcement that he would retire immediately.He stated that his wife Cookie and their unborn child did not have HIV, and that he would dedicate his life to “battle this deadly disease”. Johnson initially said that he did not know how he contracted the disease,but later acknowledged that it was through having multiple sexual partners during his playing career. At the time, only a small percentage of HIV-positive people had contracted it from heterosexual sex,and it was initially rumored that Johnson was gay or bisexual, although he denied both. Johnson later accused Isiah Thomas of spreading the rumors, a claim Thomas deniedJohnson’s HIV announcement became a major news story in the United States,and in 2004 was named as ESPN’s seventh most memorable moment of the past 25 years.Many articles praised Johnson as a hero, and former U.S. President George H. W. Bush said, “For me, Magic is a hero, a hero for anyone who loves sports.”
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Despite his retirement, Johnson was voted by fans as a starter for the 1992 NBA All-Star Game at Orlando Arena, although his former teammates Byron Scott and A. C. Green said that Johnson should not play, and several NBA players, including Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone, argued that they would be at risk of contamination if Johnson suffered an open wound while on court. Johnson led the West to a 153–113 win and was crowned All-Star MVP after recording 25 points, 9 assists, and 5 rebounds. The game ended after he made a last-minute three-pointer, and players from both teams ran onto the court to congratulate Johnson.
Johnson was chosen to compete in the 1992 Summer Olympics for the US basketball team, dubbed the “Dream Team” because of the NBA stars on the roster. During the tournament, which the USA won, Johnson played infrequently because of knee problems, but he received standing ovations from the crowd, and used the opportunity to inspire HIV-positive people.
Before the 1992–93 NBA season, Johnson announced his intention to stage an NBA comeback. After practicing and playing in several pre-season games, he returned to retirement before the start of the regular season, citing controversy over his return sparked by opposition from several active players. During his retirement, Johnson has written a book on safer sex, run several businesses, worked for NBC as a commentator, and toured Asia and Australia with a basketball team that comprised former college and NBA players.
He returned to the NBA as coach of the Lakers near the end of the 1993–94 NBA season, replacing Randy Pfund. After losing five of six games, Johnson announced he would resign after the season, choosing instead to purchase a 5% share of the team in June 1994. In the following season, at the age of 36, Johnson attempted another comeback as a player. Playing power forward, he averaged 14.6 points, 6.9 assists, and 5.7 rebounds per game in the last 32 games of the season. After the Lakers lost to the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs, Johnson retired permanently, saying, “I am going out on my terms, something I couldn’t say when I aborted a comeback in 1992.”
Johnson first fathered a son in 1981, when Andre Johnson was born to Melissa Mitchell. Although Andre was raised by his mother, he visited Johnson each summer, and as of October 2005 was working for Magic Johnson Enterprises as a marketing director. In 1991, Johnson married Earlitha “Cookie” Kelly in a small wedding in Lansing which included guests Thomas, Aguirre, and Herb Williams. Johnson and Cookie have one son, Earvin III; the couple adopted a daughter, Elisa, in 1995. Johnson resides in Dana Point, California.
In 1998, Johnson hosted a late night talk show on the Fox network called The Magic Hour, but the show was canceled after two months because of low ratings. He runs Magic Johnson Enterprises, a company that has a net worth of $700 million; its subsidiaries include Magic Johnson Productions, a promotional company; Magic Johnson Theaters, a nationwide chain of movie theaters; and Magic Johnson Entertainment, a movie studio. Johnson has also worked as a motivational speaker. Johnson was an NBA commentator for Turner Network Television for seven years, before becoming a studio analyst for ESPN’s NBA Countdown in 2008. In 1994, Johnson became a minority owner of the Lakers, having reportedly paid more than $10 million for part ownership. He also held the title of team vice president. Johnson sold his ownership stake in the Lakers in October 2010. In 2006 Johnson created a contract food service with Sodexo USA called Sodexo-Magic.
In January 2012, Johnson joined with Guggenheim Partners and Stan Kasten in a bid for ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team. In March 2012, Johnson’s ownership group was announced as the winner of the proceedings to buy the Dodgers.
Johnson is a supporter of the Democratic Party—in 2006, he publicly endorsed Phil Angelides for governor of California, and in 2007 he supported Hillary Clinton for president of the United States.In 2010 Johnson endorsed Barbara Boxer in her race for re-election.
HIV had been associated with drug addicts and homosexuals, but Johnson’s campaigns sought to show that the risk of infection was not limited to those groups. Johnson stated that his aim was to “help educate all people about what [HIV] is about” and teach others not to “discriminate against people who have HIV and AIDS”. Johnson was later criticized by the AIDS community for his decreased involvement in publicizing the spread of the disease.
To prevent his HIV infection from progressing to AIDS, Johnson takes a daily combination of drugs. He has advertised GlaxoSmithKline’s drugs, and partnered with Abbott Laboratories to publicize the fight against AIDS in African American communities.
For his feats, Johnson was voted as one of the 50 Greatest Players of All Time by the NBA in 1996, and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. ESPN’s SportsCentury ranked Johnson #17 in their “50 Greatest Athletes of the 20th Century” In 2006, ESPN.com rated Johnson the greatest point guard of all time, stating, “It could be argued that he’s the one player in NBA history who was better than Michael Jordan.” Several of his achievements in individual games have also been named among the top moments in the NBA.
Several journalists hypothesized that the Johnson–Bird rivalry was so appealing because it represented many other contrasts, such as the clash between the Lakers and Celtics, between Hollywood flashiness (“Showtime”) and Boston/Indiana blue collar grit (“Celtic Pride”), and between blacks and whites. The rivalry was also significant because it drew national attention to the faltering NBA. Prior to Johnson and Bird’s arrival, the NBA had gone through a decade of declining interest and low TV ratings. With the two future Hall of Famers, the league won a whole generation of new fans,drawing both traditionalist adherents of Bird’s dirt court Indiana game and those appreciative of Johnson’s public park flair. Sports journalist Larry Schwartz of ESPN asserted that Johnson and Bird saved the NBA from bankruptcy.
Despite their on-court rivalry, Johnson and Bird became close friends during the filming of a 1984 Converse shoe advertisement that depicted them as enemies. Johnson appeared at Bird’s retirement ceremony in 1992, and described Bird as a “friend forever”; during Johnson’s Hall of Fame ceremony, Bird formally inducted his old rival