With so many star athletes in the NBA’s past, it’s time we look back at some of the players who defined the sport and made basketball what it is. Today we’re looking at Magic Johnson, whose 13 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers secured him as one of the best basketball players of all time.
From his surprising rookie season performance to his clash with the AIDS epidemic, we’re taking a lot at Johnson’s entire career from the late 70s to the early 90s. If you’re already interested in the star players of the NBA, you may be interested in Fanduel’s NBA player futures odds for those great players who are still active.
Given the choice to join UCLA or Indiana, Johnson decided to stay home in Michigan State where he learned to play point guard. He had no professional ambitions and once wanted to work in television as a presenter or commentator.
As a freshman, he averaged approximately 17 points with the Michigan State Spartans and helped them secure the Big Ten Conference title for 1978. This qualified them for the NCAA tournament but they lost to the Kentucky Wildcats.
They had more luck next season, facing Indiana State and beating them in what was the most-watched college game for that period. Having been selected as All-American for 1978-79, Johnson entered the draft and got first pick by the Los Angeles Lakers.
The Rookie Season
It didn’t take long for Magic Johnson to make a splash after getting picked, proving that the Lakers had made a smart decision. Johnson was a personal fan of Lakers star player Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, so being selected to help the Lakers secure a championship win was a dream come true.
As in college, Johnson played point guard and averaged 18 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.3 assists for his inaugural season. Johnson was added to the NBA All-Rookie Team and the Lakers went 60-22 in the season to reach the 1980 finals. After taking a lead of 3-2 in the championship series, Abdul-Jabbar had sprained his ankle.
With a lead to defend, the coach subbed Kareem with 20-year-old rookie point guard Magic Johnson. Across the span of the game, Johnson achieved 42 points, 7 assists, 15 rebounds, and 3 steals after playing not just center but also forward and guard too. The Lakers won 123-107 and Johnson was named the series MVP for his unexpected clutch, a game that’s still remembered to this day. This also makes Johnson the only rookie to have won an NBA Finals MVP award.
Magic V Bird
When a college-aged Johnson and the Spartans faced off against Indiana State to secure the championship, he played against then-senior Larry Bird. They would clash again in the 1983-84 season when the Lakers hit the Finals and had to compete with Bird and the Boston Celtics.
Larry Bird had his revenge at the end of the series when, during game 7, Celtics point guard Dennis Johnson stole the win from Magic Johnson. Magic said that it was “the one championship we should have had but didn’t get.”
Next season, the Lakers found themselves competing with the Celtics again. After a shaky start, the Lakers pulled it back by winning the other six games. Following a defeat to the Houston Rockets in the next season, the Lakers met the Celtics again in the 1987 finals. Johnson scored the game-winning shot, winning Finals MVP again for the series.
Despite the public rivalry, which brought new interest to the NBA, the pair were friends behind the scenes and spoke respectfully of one another during their retirements. Bird even inducted Johnson into the Hall of Fame.
HIV & Retirement
Going into the 1991-92 season, a routine physical discovered that Johnson had contracted HIV. He announced that he would retire immediately to take care of his health and avoid endangering others. It helped spread awareness that heterosexual men could contract the disease.
Despite his condition and retirement, fans voted Johnson into the 1992 NBA All-Star Game. Several players objected to him being there but Johnson still attended and made a last-minute three-pointer, which both teams rushed the court to congratulate him for.
Lastly, he would be chosen to compete in the 1992 Olympics for the USA. Called the Dream Team, Johnson shared the court with Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, and Michael Jordan. They won the gold 8-0, taking no losses.
He would return in sporadic moments but these paled in comparison to the rest of his career.