American Basketball Icons That Shaped The Game Part III: Magic Johnson

Earvin “Magic” Johnson was born in Lansing, Michigan to a father who was a General Motors assembly line worker and a mother who was a school janitor — both whom Johnson claims that he took his hard work ethic from. Magic was known to work on his game “all day.” Back then, the future Lakers superstar also looked up to Bill Russell, not because of his athletic ability, but because he had won 11 NBA Championships. He wanted to win some too, and he was going to do whatever he needed to get there.

Johnson began turning heads in middle school. One time in eighth grade, he scored 48 points! He made the decision to go to Everett High School — where as a sophomore he recorded a triple double that consisted of 36 points, 18 rebounds, and 16 assists! It was after that game, he was given the nickname of “magic.” It had been heard of for big men to get a lot of points and rebounds (like Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell), but not very many assists. And Magic wasn’t done growing yet.

During his last year of high school, Johnson finally reached his goal of winning a championship — and did so in overtime. At the end of the season, the Everett High School Boys Basketball Team had a 27-1 record. He was also named to the 1977 McDonalds All-American team.

Back in the day, Johnson was considered to be the greatest recruit out of the state of Michigan and received offers from schools like UCLA and Indiana. But to Magic, the state of Michigan was home. Perhaps the most attractive part about going to Michigan State was that the head coach, Jud Heathcote, told him that he could play the point guard position. Keep in mind, Magic had grown quite a bit since his middle school and high school days, and was now 6’9″, weighing 220 lbs. That’s one monster of a point guard for sure!

In college, Magic brought the Spartans to an incredibly dominant 1978-1979 season, where they made the NCAA Tournament. They went all the way to the National Championship, where he faced Larry Bird and the Indiana State Sycamores. Michigan State won the game 75-64. Johnson was then voted the Final Four’s most outstanding player.

Magic declared for the 1979 NBA Draft and was picked up as the first overall pick by the Los Angeles Lakers. They drafted him to join Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — who was an incredible player, listed at 7’2″, but unfortunately was not enough alone to win an NBA Championship. But with those two, Los Angeles could do anything.

Johnson went on to have an incredible 13-season career playing for the Lakers: Making 12 All-Star appearances (in which, he was the All-Star MVP twice), being selected to the All-NBA team 9 times, earning 3 NBA MVP awards, and winning 5 NBA Championships — where he was the Finals MVP 3 different times.

Even though it was genuinely entertaining to watch Magic Johnson play because of his height and incredible dominance at the point guard position, the most entertaining part of his game had to be his incredible ball control. Magic could look in one direction, pump fake in that direction, get the defense off-balance towards that side, and pass to a teammate on the opposite side — who would have a wide-open lane for a bucket. You never knew what was going on in Magic’s mind which, when combined with his incredible offensive dominance, was truly a frightening sight for any defender coming down the court to play defense. It would be like trying to hit a 90 mph fastball with a blind fold. Pretty much impossible.

Magic Johnson was the ultimate cheat code. The Lakers could use him to dish out nice assists because he was a point guard, get gritty in the paint and grab some boards because of his height, and score by being crafty around the rim with his incredible ball control that he worked so hard to earn. He could do it all, and it was because of him (and partially because of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar too) that the Lakers won five NBA championships in the 1980’s. An absolute legend.