Pure brilliance revolutionized the game.
The Lakers steamrolled through the 1980 playoffs before facing the Philadelphia 76ers in The Finals. With the team up 3-2 in the series, but without Abdul-Jabbar due to injury, Los Angeles moved Johnson to center for Game 6. The 20-year-old delivered with a 42-point, 15-rebound, seven-assist and three-steal masterpiece in the title-clinching win. Johnson was named Finals MVP to become the only rookie in NBA history to win the award.
After missing 45 games during his sophomore season due to a knee injury, Johnson and the Lakers returned to win the 1982 NBA championship, beginning a run of seven Finals appearances over the next eight seasons. Johnson won his second Finals MVP award in 1982 with averages of 16.2 ppg, 10.8 rpg and 8.0 apg in the six-game series against the 76ers.
From 1982-91, Johnson averaged a double-double every season and led the NBA in assists four times. He made his first of nine-straight All-NBA first teams in 1983 as he led the Lakers to another Finals appearance against the 76ers, where they fell in a four-game sweep for Johnson’s first Finals defeat.
The Lakers were back in The Finals in 1984, this time facing Larry Bird and the Celtics. Johnson and Bird, who had been rivals since college, quickly became the new faces of the NBA. The Celtics won the first Finals matchup in an epic seven-game series. Johnson averaged 13.6 apg during the grueling matchup.
The Lakers faced the Celtics two more times in The Finals over the next three seasons. Los Angeles won the championship in 1985 before falling short of doing so in 1986. Johnson dominated the 1986-87 season to earn his first NBA MVP award. In his third Finals matchup against Boston, Johnson excelled to win his third Finals MVP with averages of 26.2 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 13.0 apg and 2.3 spg over the six-game series.
Johnson won his fifth and final championship with the Lakers in 1988. In a matchup against Isiah Thomas and the Detroit Pistons, Johnson averaged 21.1 ppg, 13.0 apg and 5.7 rpg during a memorable seven-game series.
Johnson continued to evolve his game and push the boundaries of how a 6-foot-9 player could play en route to back-to-back NBA MVP awards in 1989 and '90. With Abdul-Jabbar and coach Riley gone, Johnson was the veteran leader in L.A. when he and the Lakers surprisingly made the 1991 Finals to face a new superstar and dynasty on the rise — Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Johnson averaged 18.6 ppg, 12.4 apg and 8.9 rpg in the series, but it wasn’t enough to stop Jordan and the Bulls from winning the series in five games.
Johnson revealed at a news conference on Nov. 7, 1991 that he tested positive for HIV and would retire from the NBA. Despite not playing during the 1991-92 season, Johnson was voted by fans into the 1992 All-Star Game, where he won his second All-Star Game MVP with 25 points, nine assists and five rebounds. He earned the J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award for his work to raise AIDS awareness.
Johnson returned to coach the Lakers for 16 games at the end of the 1993-94 season, going 5-11 and stepping down after that season. He also returned to the NBA as a player for the final 32 games of the 1995-96 season. At 36 years old, Johnson played power forward and posted 14.6 ppg, 6.9 apg and 5.7 rpg. He announced his retirement from the NBA after the season in the summer of 1996.
In his 13 NBA seasons, Johnson compiled 17,707 points (19.5 ppg), 6,559 rebounds (7.2 rpg) and 10,141 assists (11.2 apg) in addition to 1,724 steals (1.9 spg). He remains the Lakers all-time leader in assists and triple-doubles, in addition to ranking in the top 5 for points, rebounds, steals and minutes played.