NBA @ 50 Interview with Magic Johnson: Part One
Back in 1996, in conjunction with the year-long celebration of "The NBA at 50," NBA Entertainment conducted a number of interviews with some of the most memorable and influential personalities of the NBA's first half-century. Now, the full, uneditied transcripts of those interviews have been made available exclusively to NBA.com!
Named one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players, Magic Johnson was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. Below is part one of his interview.
Q: What was it like to finally make it into the NBA?
Magic: Well it was definitely a dream come true, you know, when you started off playing shirts and skins and finally from there you would move up to playing in the playground to your first real team. Then along with that real team came your first real uniform, right? From then you move up from Pop Warner and all that to playing junior high and you get the uniform and the uniform top.
So then you go from junior high to high school and you get the uniform and the uniform top, but you get your name all over it and some pants. Then you hit college and you get free sneakers with your uniforms…all the free sneakers that you want. What caps that all off, and the reason why you are going through all that is for one reason, and that is to get to the NBA.
That first game, I was so excited and so nervous that I ran out of the court leading my team out. I'm trying to be cool but not show that I'm so excited. By the time I get down there, I'm about to lay it up…the first layup, I trip and stumble and started rolling. (laughs) That's how nervous I was. I turned around and they (his teammates) were just dying laughing at me.
The game was so exciting. It was on CBS, a televised game on Friday night. It was tape-delayed at that time, and none of this is live stuff. So we get out there and World Free lit me up. He had 46 points. Oh my goodness! He was hitting shots all over the place. World has got the old kick shot, you know he'll kick his feet out wide and got that jumper behind his head all ugly shot but it went in. I could remember that it was a tight, tight game and finally it came down to the last second and coach (Jack) McKinney diagrammed a plan for Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) to come across the lane and we would dump it into him. He hit a hook shot from the free throw line to win the game. I went crazy. I've never seen a guy hit a hook from the free throw line and it was the end of the game and so I was running over there all speed up and jumping up on it and choking him. “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” He turns…Kareem's so serious. He turns, now I'm going crazy. I'm going crazy. He said, "Buck" they called me Buck, "Buck, we got 81 more games, quit choking me!"
It was exciting and something that you always waited for. You know how you pictured it in your mind already. You've already played that interview out before you got to the interview. You know you say, what do I say? Will I say the same thing that everybody says, “Hi mom and dad?” Would I go crazy? What would I do? Once Brent (Musberger) stuck the mike in my mouth I didn't know what to say. You know when you go “ahhhhhhhh, stage fright!” (laughs) and tongue tied at the same time. But I’ll tell you I was just a guy who really loved being interviewed. I think I was nervous and I always said that word that most athletes say over and over again, “and, uh and uh, you know.” Before you really know how to do an interview, you say those things over and over again.
Q: I guess people didn't appreciate that when Earvin Johnson was a rookie, he was nervous. He was tongue-tied.
Magic: And people wouldn't believe you today. You know I was a shy guy and people didn't know that and still don't know it today. I'm sure basketball brought my shyness out because of the fact that you have to do interviews, and that people are always talking to you in terms of the fans and everything. I met wonderful people playing in the NBA. Whether it is the officials, the scorekeepers, all the people who work for the NBA, not just for the Lakers, but I'm talking about just for the league itself. Whether it was the people who shot the photographs all the time. Whether it is, on and on and on -- the writers. You had to talk to them all the time, all these people. It brought the shyness out of me and I am glad it did.
Q: You sometimes refer to the fact that there are two people, there is Earvin and there is Magic.
Magic: Magic is crazy. He is that crazy wild guy on the basketball court that is very intense and very serious. He is the guy who lives and eats and breathes basketball. Magic is a guy who would stand for nothing but winning and really prepared himself as well as he prepared his team. Earvin is the complete opposite. He is that freelance, easy going (guy), that doesn't like to say a whole lot. He likes to be at home just chilling. Likes to go to parks, take long walks, goes to movies. Those type of things. That is Earvin. You’ve got Earvin but Earvin knows when to transform into Magic and Magic knows when to transform into Earvin. Both go together though, and Earvin wouldn't be anywhere without Magic and Magic wouldn't be anywhere without Earvin. I guess you can understand that can’t you? (laughs)
Q: Not many people know that you are a student of the game, you used to study it with your dad.
Magic: Every junior high, every high school game I had, the next day I would get together my dad and go over the game and what happened and same thing happened in college. Mentally I felt that I was able to play in the NBA, but I found out physically that I wasn't quite able to come in and take over this league because one thing about the NBA is that they are the world's greatest players and they teach you that right from day one and that's why World Free had 46 points.
I guess when people ask what is the biggest transition to the NBA from college, it is definitely defense and the mental part. And the mental part I was ready for but the defense part I wasn't because the next night (George) Gervin had 40 on me, Paul Westphal the next night had 38 on me. (laughs) So defensively I was not ready but mentally I was ready.
I had played against pros all my life. Terry Furlow, George Gervin, George McGinnis, all these guys I've been playing against my whole life. I was ready to take the team in my hands and run it but there was a lot of things that I had to learn. And I had great teachers. Norm Nixon, Kareem, all these guys who were really good at helping me out. Jamaal Wilkes too.
Q: So how was that rookie year?
Magic: It was the greatest because he I am doing something that I really loved to do, and finally I am where I want to be and that is in the NBA. I mean all of us have been watching Kareem all our lives and I’m sitting here pinching myself. There he is sitting right across from me. I mean I'm sitting here being on the same team as Kareem. My phone bill must have been $1000 a month because I'm calling home. "I can't believe it, dad, I'm playing with Kareem.” I'm calling all my boys. I mean I'm wearing them out too.
When I still ran out on the court and saw him posting up and he'll throw that one hand up all the time, I was just blessed and lucky to be playing with him and with all the rest of the guys, the Lakers. I mean God was really looking out for myself and Larry Bird. I mean Lakers, Magic. Larry Bird to Boston. I mean it was just a storybook.
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