See his autobiography (1992).
(born Aug. 14, 1959, Lansing, Mich., U.S.) U.S. basketball player. He led Michigan State University to the collegiate championship in 1979 and led the NBA Los Angeles Lakers to five championships in the 1980s. Standing 6 ft 9 in. (2.06 m) tall, he was exceptionally tall for a point guard and was able to use his size to rebound and score inside. However, he was best known for his creative passing and expert floor leadership. He was named Most Valuable Player three times (1987, 1989, 1990). He retired after being diagnosed with HIV in 1991, though he returned to the Lakers for brief stints as a player and as a coach.
Learn more about Johnson, Magic with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Jr. (born August 14, 1959) is a retired American basketball player who played for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association (NBA). After winning a championship at both the high school and college level, Johnson was selected first overall in the 1979 NBA Draft by the Lakers. Johnson won a championship and a Finals MVP award in his first season, and the Lakers went on to win a total of five championships during the 1980s. Johnson retired abruptly in 1991 after announcing that he had HIV, but he returned to win the MVP of 1992 All-Star Game. He retired again for four years after protests from his fellow players, but he returned in 1996 to play 32 games for the Lakers, before retiring for the third and final time.
Johnson's career achievements include five NBA championships, three Most Valuable Player Awards, and three Finals Most Valuable Player Awards. He also played in nine NBA Finals series, 12 All-Star games, and was voted into 10 All-NBA First and Second Teams. He led the league in regular-season assists four times, and he is the NBA's all-time leader in assists per game with an average of 11.2 per game. Johnson was also a member of the "Dream Team" 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 also rated the greatest NBA point guard of all time by ESPN in 2007. His friendship and rivalry with Boston Celtics star Larry Bird, based on regular games at championship level between the Lakers and Celtics, were well-documented. Since his retirement, he has been an advocate for HIV/AIDS prevention and safe sex, as well as a philanthropist.
Johnson was first nicknamed "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, nicknamed him "Magic", despite Johnson's Christian mother thinking that the name was sacriligeous. In the summer before his senior year, Johnson's best friend Reggie Chastaine was killed in a car accident, which Johnson said was "devastating". During 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. The team fulfilled their promise of winning the state title in Chastaine's honor by winning the state title game in overtime.
Initially, Johnson did not want to play professionally, and instead focused on his major of communication studies, and his desire to become a television commentator. But playing with future NBA players Greg Kelser and Jay Vincent, 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 they lost narrowly to eventual national champion Kentucky.
Before the 1978–79 season, Johnson was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as one of the top ten sophomore players in the country. During the 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 is still the highest-rated 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, Johnson declared himself eligible for the 1979 NBA Draft, and finished his career at Michigan State with averages of 17.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 7.9 assists per game.
The Lakers compiled a 60–22 record in the regular season and reached the 1980 NBA Finals, where they faced the Philadelphia 76ers, who were led by forward Julius Erving. The Lakers took a 3–2 lead, but Abdul-Jabbar, who averaged 33 points a game in the series, sprained his ankle in Game 5, and was unable to play in the remainder of the series. Paul Westhead, who had replaced Jack McKinney as head coach earlier in the season, decided to put Johnson at center. In Game 6, Johnson recorded 42 points, 15 rebounds, seven assists and three steals, played guard, forward and center at different points in the game, and lifted the Lakers to a 123–107 win. Johnson became the first and only rookie to win the NBA Finals MVP award, and his clutch performance is still regarded as one of the finest ever in the NBA. He also became one of only four players to win NCAA and NBA championships in consecutive years.
At the beginning of the 1981–82 NBA season, Johnson had a heated dispute with Westhead, who Johnson said made the Lakers "slow" and "predictable". After Johnson demanded to be traded, Buss fired Westhead, and replaced him with Riley. Although Johnson denied responsibility for Westhead's firing, he was booed across the league, even by the 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 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. Johnson later said that his third season was when the Lakers first became a great team, and he credited Riley with making Lakers successful.
During the 1982–83 NBA season, Johnson averaged 16.8 points, 8.6 rebounds and 10.5 assists per game and earned his first All-NBA First Team nomination. The Lakers again reached the Finals, and faced the Sixers for a third time, 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 the 1984–85 NBA season, Johnson returned to form and averaged 18.3 points, 6.2 rebounds and 12.6 assists per game in the regular season. He led the Lakers into the 1985 NBA Finals, where they again played against the Celtics. The series started poorly for the Lakers, when they allowed an NBA Finals record 148 points to the Celtics in a 38 point loss in Game 1. However, Abdul-Jabbar, who was now 38 years old, scored 30 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in Game 2, and his 36 points in the Game 5 win were instrumental in establishing a 3–2 lead for Los Angeles. After the Lakers defeated the Celtics in six games, both Abdul-Jabbar and Johnson, who averaged 15.2 assists per game in the finals, 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, 5.9 rebounds, and 12.6 assists per game. But after advancing to the Western Conference Finals, the Lakers were unable to defeat Houston, who advanced to the Finals in five games. However, in the next season, Johnson averaged a career-high of 23.9 points, as well as 6.3 rebounds and 12.2 assists per game, and earned his first regular season MVP award. The Lakers met the Celtics again in the 1987 NBA Finals, and in Game 4, Johnson hit a last-second hook shot over the outstretched arms of Celtics big men Robert Parish and Kevin McHale to win the game 107–106. The game-winning shot, which Johnson dubbed his "junior, junior, junior sky-hook", put the Lakers up three games to one, and Los Angeles went on to win in six games. For his feats, Johnson was awarded his third Finals MVP title.
In the 1988–89 NBA season, Johnson's 22.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 12.8 assists per game earned him his second MVP award, and the Lakers reached the 1989 NBA Finals, where they again faced the Pistons. But after Johnson went down with a hamstring injury in Game 2, the Lakers were no match for the Pistons, who swept them 4–0.
With Abdul-Jabbar's retirement the previous year, Johnson won his third MVP award after a strong regular season with averages of 22.3 points, 6.6 rebounds and 11.5 assists per game. But the Lakers bowed out in the second playoff round to the Phoenix Suns, which was the Lakers earliest elimination in the playoffs in nine years. Johnson performed well during the 1990–91 NBA season, with averages of 19.4 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 12.5 assists per game, and the Lakers reached the 1991 NBA Finals against the Chicago Bulls, who were 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, the Laker's leading scorer James Worthy and starting shooting guard Byron Scott were both injured, and Bulls defensive stalwart Scottie Pippen defended well against Johnson, and despite two triple-doubles from Johnson during the series, Finals MVP Jordan led his team to a 4–1 win.
Despite his retirement, Johnson was still voted by fans into the 1992 NBA All-Star Game, 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. However, 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, which was dubbed the "Dream Team" because of the numerous NBA stars on the roster. During the tournament, Johnson played infrequently due to knee problems, but he received standing ovations from the crowd, and he used the opportunity to attempt to inspire HIV positive people.
Before the 1992–93 NBA season Johnson publicly announced his intentions to stage a comeback to the NBA, however, he decided to return to retirement before the start of the regular season proper after practicing and playing in several pre-season games, citing controversy over his return from several active players. In his retirement, Johnson engaged himself in several activities, including writing a book on safer sex, running several businesses, working for NBC as a commentator, building a chain of Magic Johnson Movie Theatres in minority areas of Los Angeles, and touring Asia and Australia with a basketball team comprising former college and NBA players.
He returned to the NBA as coach of the Lakers for the 1993–94 NBA season, replacing Randy Pfund, but after losing the next six games announced the end of his coaching career, choosing instead to purchase a 5% share of the team in June 1994.
The following year, 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. But the Lakers lost to the Houston Rockets in the first round of the playoffs, and 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. In 1991, Johnson married Earlitha "Cookie" Kelly, with whom he had one son, Earvin III; Johnson has also adopted a daughter, Elisa.
In 1998, Johnson hosted a late night talk show on Fox called The Magic Hour, but the show was cancelled after two months due to low ratings. Today, he runs Magic Johnson Enterprises, a company that has a net worth of 700 million dollars, and owns several subsidiaries, including Magic Johnson Productions, a promotional company; Magic Johnson Theaters, a nationwide chain of movie theaters; and Magic Johnson Entertainment, a movie studio. Johnson was hired in 2001 to be an NBA analyst for Turner Network Television. He's a major supporter of the Democratic Party, and publicly endorsed Phil Angelides for Governor of California and Hillary Clinton for President of the United States.
After announcing his infection, Johnson teamed up with his physician Dr. Lynn Montana to help educate the world's youth about the risks associated with HIV. Johnson also set up the Magic Johnson Foundation to help combat HIV, although he later diversified the foundation to include other charitable goals. In 1992, he joined the National Commission on AIDS, but left after only eight months, saying that the commission was not doing enough to combat the disease. He was also the main speaker for the United Nations (UN) World AIDS Day Conference in 1999, and he has served as a United Nations Messengers of Peace.
Johnson stated that abstinence is the safest way to avoid contracting HIV via sexual contact, and he used his status as a basketball player to help debunk several popular misconceptions about HIV. Previously, HIV had been associated with drug addicts and homosexuals, but Johnson's admission and subsequent campaigns publicized a risk of infection that included everyone. 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." However, in recent years, he has also been criticized by the AIDS community for his decreasing involvement in halting and publicizing the spread of the disease.
1=Few athletes are truly unique, changing the way their sport is played with their singular skills.|4=Introductory line of Johnson's biography |5=NBA Encyclopedia: Playoff Edition
Johnson is considered one of the most successful players in the history of the game. In 905 NBA games, he scored 17,707 points, 6,559 rebounds and 10,141 assists, translating to career averages of 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 11.2 assists per game. Johnson shares the single-game playoff record for assists (24), holds the Finals record for assists in a game (21), and has the most playoff assists (2,346). He holds the All-Star Game single-game record for assists (22), and the All-Star Game record for career assists (127). Johnson introduced a fast-paced style of basketball that became known as "Showtime", described as a mix of "no-look passes off the fastbreak, pin-point alley-oops from halfcourt, spinning feeds and overhand bullets under the basket through triple teams." Fellow Lakers guard Michael Cooper stated that: "There have been times when he [Johnson] has thrown passes and I wasn't sure where he was going. Then one of our guys catches the ball and scores, and I run back up the floor convinced that he must've thrown it through somebody." Johnson was also unique because he played point guard despite being 6–9, a size reserved normally for frontcourt players. Johnson combined the size of a power forward, the one-on-one skills of a swingman and the ball handling talent of a guard, making him one of the most dangerous triple-double threats of all time; his 138 triple-double-games are second only to Oscar Robertson's 181.
For his feats, Johnson was voted as one of the 50 Greatest Players of All Time by the NBA in 1996, and he was introduced into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. In 2006, ESPN.com rated Johnson the greatest point guard of all time, and stated: "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 one of the top moments in the NBA.
Several journalists hypothesised that the Johnson-Bird rivalry was so appealing because it represented many other rivalries, such as the clash between Lakers and Celtics, between Hollywood flash ("Showtime") and Boston/Indiana blue collar grit ("Celtic Pride"), and between blacks and whites. Apart from the on-court differences, the rivalry proved significant because it drew national attention to the faltering NBA. Prior to Johnson and Bird, the league had gone through a decade of declining interest and low TV ratings. With the two 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 even went as far as to assert that Johnson and Bird saved the NBA from bankruptcy.
Despite their on-court rivalry Johnson and Bird became good friends privately, ironically during the filming of a joint 1984 Converse shoe ad which was meant to depict them as enemies. When Bird retired in 1992, Johnson appeared at his retirement ceremony and described Bird as a "friend forever", and during Johnson's induction into the Hall of Fame, Bird formally inducted Johnson in the ceremony.
For the 2008 NBA Finals, which featured a rematch of the Celtics-Lakers rivalry, Johnson appeared in a split-screen advertisement with Bird (as part of the "There Can Only Be One" campaign which had played throughout the 2008 NBA Playoffs but to that point only featured players from the two teams competing in a given series) discussing the meaning of rivalries.