Legendary L.A. Lakers point guard Earvin "Magic" Johnson, who will be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday, September 27, participated in a conference call with media on Wednesday, September 18. Johnson joins five other electees including Philadelphia 76ers head coach Larry Brown, the late Drazen Petrovic, University of Arizona head coach Lute Olsen, North Carolina State women's head coach Kay Yow and the Harlem Globetrotters. Additionally, the Hall of Fame will christen its brand new $103 million Hall of Fame and Museum on September 28 in Springfield, Massachusetts, the birthplace of basketball.
Sept. 18, 2002 | Listen in:
Q: Share your thoughts about the U.S. team in the Basketball World Championship. Is it a problem that can be fixed?
Johnson: Thereís no question that it can be fixed. Anytime that you donít have probably the top 10 players play Ö and then I thought the team that we did field, we really didnít have any great shooters on that team either. If we get into international play Ė Iíve been playing international ball for the last 10 years. And every time I go and take my team over I have six great shooters and thatís why Iíve been successful. You have to have great shooters. We had a lot of scorers, but we didnít have great shooters. And to compound that, to me there was no sense of urgency. But it can be corrected. The next time we go out we have to get three or four shooters. It hurt us that Ray [Allen] couldnít play, and a couple of other guys that could probably stick it from the outside, because you need those guys to bust that zone wide open. Weíve learned a great lesson. The world has caught up a little bit but not to where they are going to beat us in the Olympics if the guys play who are suppose to play. And, if we play the right style of ball and we have to respect those guys.
Q: How are you feeling? Do you consider yourself ill?
Magic Johnson led the break for the Showtime Lakers and will now race into the Hall of Fame.|
Johnson: I donít feel ill. I never have. I still work out every day like I normally do. Everything has been super since Day 1. I just had my physical last week and he said, man, whatever you are doing just keep it up. I passed all the tests again. To me, everything is wonderful. Life is wonderful.
Q: What does this honor mean to you? Did you dream about this when you entered the league?
Johnson: I donít think that you could really think about this ever. Even when you are playing five, 10 years in. Because you really donít know that you are going to make it to the hall of fame. What I just tried to do was be the best player that I could, but also the best winner that I could. The only thing that I wanted to do in basketball was win. I thought that if I won, winning would take care of everything. I felt between the winning and my leadership ability on the court, thatís probably what got me in. I wasnít faster than a lot of guys. I couldnít jump as high. Where I was, I was very intelligent, a very smart player. And I loved to play. I not only played for my teammates and for Los Angeles, but for the fans. I loved to get them going. I think thatís probably the reason: because we were successful and we won. But I tried to win every single game.
Q: What does it mean to have Larry Bird as your presenter?
Johnson: When they told me I get to decide who, Larry was the guy who came up. The only name. Itís a shame I couldnít have Pat Riley either. But Larry was my guy. I just love Larry. I think we helped make each other the pros that we were. We helped raise each otherís level of play. We helped each other be the best that we could be. We pushed each other. Since the day we met in college, we had probably one of the best rivalries that youíve seen. As far as Boston and L.A. and as far as Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. Guys are making the salaries they are making because of that rivalry. What we did for TV and for basketball. When he retired I was able to go to Boston and help them retire him. Now heíll help me close the last chapter of my book as far as the NBA by helping me go into the Hall of Fame. Itís so unique. Itís so special. I canít wait. Itís going to be a blast. We are going to have so much fun. Before we werenít good friends and now we call each other; wrote a book together. Weíre just finishing that.
Q: Whatís it called?
Johnson: One of those coffee table books. And we both did an interview together with Jackie McMullan Ė that was the craziest thing because we were laughing most of the time. We always just have a good time together. Itís great to be best of friends.
Q: When did you know that you were more than good?
Johnson: I think once Ö probably the Philadelphia game [my rookie year] when we won the championship. I knew in my mind that I could become something special. Because that was when all the pressure was on. To have a game like that Game 6, on the road, in a championship series, against my idol Dr. J. was truly a blessing and truly wonderful. And thatís when I thought that I could be something special. Before you did it in high school and college but it was never in the pros. And I think you always have to make your mark in the NBA. There are a lot of great high school players that didnít turn out to great college players. There have been a lot of great college players that never turn out to be great professionals. Doing at that level when all the chips were on the table, that told me something.
Q: Did other players trying to emulate help or hurt the game?
Johnson: It definitely helped the game because of the fact that people were trying to pass. Right now, we need more passers in high school and in college and in the NBA. If they are going to try and me like me then they have to try to pass first and shoot second. We do have guys like Jason Kidd who is setting a prime example for young people to follow, and of course John Stockton. Jason is closest to me because of his height and John has always been doing it. I think it only helps the game and when you look at Jalen Rose, he said he got a lot of his skills from me in terms of looking for the pass and setting up guys. Any time you try to be like a passer you can only help the game.
Q: What is your opinion of the NBA right now?
Johnson: I think that the young players are hurting the game only because they donít have the fundamentals and they are not really ready for the NBA physically or mentally. But the game is at a high level right now. If you would have taken last year out you wouldnít have been at a high level. But because of what happened in the Playoffs Ö we have to understand that the Lakers and Boston are Americaís team. If they do well then more people are going to watch. Now that the Celtics are back thatís only bringing more viewers to watch our game. The game is back is because of Paul Pierce. The world saw a true superstar in the making. I thought you had some great other performances. New Jersey, a team coming out of nowhere to make it to the Finals. I think that the thing that changed basketball was the Laker-Sacramento series. That brought all fans back, going seven close games. Great basketball. Beautiful basketball to watch by both teams. I think the NBA right now is running on a high and we have to build on it. Did this summer hurt? Yes. Because a lot of guys got in trouble. But I think that once the season starts people will forget that and concentrate on, hopefully, the NBA having another great season and a great Playoffs like we did last Playoffs.
Q: What do you think of the whole celebration and are you looking forward to seeing anyone in particular?
Johnson: I think the whole celebration is tremendous, in terms of opening the building and not only myself but all the other great people going in, the coaches and, of course, Drazenís (Petrovic) mother will be there to accept for him. Itís just going to be a truly wonderful time and I think that not only Friday but Saturday will be awfully special because a new building and lot of people are going to come and enjoy the whole weekend because it is a new building. A lot of the ex-players are my friends and so thatíll be great. Thereís nothing like a reunion. Just like the All-Star Weekend, thereís nothing like that because you get to see everybody and you normally donít get to see everybody but once a year. Now I get to see everybody twice, get to see their families, they get to see my family. My dad is really looking forward to it. He canít wait because those are the guys he cheered for and cheered against when they were playing against me, so itís going to be special for him because heís a big NBA fan.
Q: When did you and Larry really start to become good friends?
Johnson: We went to his house in French Lick in 1986 to tape a commercial. And since that time, we have been great friends and great rivals at the same time and I think we always respected each other but never knew each other. We appreciated each other even more after we got to know each other as friends. I always check on him, heís always checking on me. Our people who represent us are always calling each other to see if thereís a deal that they want both of us, we make sure their offering us the right money and the right contract. Doing business with him has been fun as well as being his friend.
Q: What did it mean to you that Larry Bird went against Celtics management and played in your first charity game in the summer of 1986?
Johnson: It meant a lot. From then, anything he wanted, I would do, anything I wanted, he would do. It kicked everything off, and we had the time of our lives. We had the sellout crowd going crazy because we were on the same team and making some unbelievable passes. That was my dream. Iíve always wanted to play with him in a pro game and he didnít disappoint me or the fans. We had such a great time. The thing that I really enjoyed about Larry is that I started enjoying him off the court because heís such a funny guy. The things he says are so funny, because heís a straight shooter. I think that just jumpstarted our relationship.
Q: How have you taken some of the attributes you had as a player and incorporated them into building your business?
Johnson: Itís the same feeling. You never change. If youíre a winner in basketball, you also try to be a winner in life and I think itís definitely helped me in business because I want to win. I want to have a successful business and I do have a successful business because of that winning attitude Iíve always had. Of course, youíre gonna lose some thing, but for the majority of the time, youíre going to win. And also, a winner when he does lose, he gets back off the ground and keeps going. I just keep building this truly wonderful business that I have. All the things that Iím involved in are making money and Iím successful and having fun at it.
Q: Why do you feel youíve been so lucky in terms of your health?
Johnson: I donít know. Maybe God just had a plan for me and he just wanted me to be around for a little while longer. I also am a person that meets challenges head on and Iíve done everything Iím supposed to do. Iíve continued to work out, Iíve taken my medicine and just really I kept on living. I didnít stop living because I was diagnosed with HIV. My attitude has been super.
Q: What was Larry Birdís reaction when you asked him to speak on your behalf?
Johnson: He just said yes. It wasnít a hard sell at all. If he asked me to do something, Iíll be there. You donít have to give a hard sell because we have a truly great friendship and I know when he asked me to do something, itís special, it means a great deal to him so itís means a great deal to me. He knows that itís coming from the bottom of my heart. I want him to really do it and he jumped on it with no hesitation. And he doesnít have to wear a suit and tie. He can wear some shorts, he can wear his Celtics uniform if he wants and come up there and bring me on out.
Q: What are your relationships like with other guys you played with?
Johnson: Theyíre great. I get see Michael Cooper and congratulate him for his back-to-back titles and then, of course, it was hard for me to be in the Finals because of New Jersey and my good friend Byron Scott and having the Lakers go up against his team. But we hugged and just saluted each other. Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) I see every now and again, and Norm (Nixon) and of course Kurt (Rambis) all the time because heís an assistant coach with the Lakers and you get to see some of the other guys as well. James Worthy I get to see a lot. Heís doing great.
Q: How would you compare the Ď80s Lakers versus this current group?
Johnson: Itís two different styles. We were run and gun, up and down the court. That was showtime. This team is more of a halfcourt team, a power team, a team that can go to Shaq, and Kobe can break anybody down on the offensive end. They relied on two guys, we relied on three guys and the results are the same. We just did it in different ways.
Q: What are your thoughts about Patrick Ewing and some of the criticism he received throughout his career?
Johnson: Patrick was a warrior. He showed up to play every night and gave 150 percent every night. You canít fault him for not beating Michael Jordan because usually Patrick went up one star versus two stars in Scottie (Pippen) and Michael (Jordan) and the Bulls always beat them. Patrick always showed up. Maybe his personality wasnít like some other players and thatís why maybe he go a bum rap, but one thing about is he played hard and you have to give him credit for that. I love him. I think heís such a super guy. Heís a good friend. Heís funny when you get to know him off the court and a good person, but he just didnít smile on the court and people took it the wrong way. But heíll also go into the Hall of Fame and I hope to get an invitation so I can cheer him on.
Q: Do you find it ironic that youíre being inducted the same year as the Harlem Globetrotters?
Johnson: I think itís great for both of us. When I was growing up, that was one of our big sources of entertainment. We couldnít wait for the Harlem Globetrotters came to town. They put on a show and have been putting on a show for many years entertaining people and winning at the same time. Theyíve probably got more fans than anybody thatís ever played basketball. Iím happy to go in with them and all the rest of the people going in as well.