#32 Earvin "Magic" Johnson
1979 - 1996
While not only one of the league’s greatest players over the last half-century, Earvin “Magic” Johnson was one of the most influential as well. His list of accomplishments is unsurpassed, if not unbelievable: One of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History, five NBA Championships, NCAA Championship, Olympic gold-medal winner, NBA Most Valuable Player. And this only begins to scratch the surface of the impressive accolades that Earvin “Magic” Johnson boasts on his resume as he enters his 18th season as the Vice President of the Lakers.
Johnson, 52, assumed his post-playing-career position with the Lakers on June 27, 1994, the same day in which he purchased a minority interest in the club from Dr. Jerry Buss (which he later sold on October 18, 2010).
Johnson’s illustrious playing career, consisting literally of hundreds of highlights, is most accurately summarized with a single word – winner. He was the guiding force behind championship-winning teams at every conceivable level, including high school, college, and the professional ranks, in addition to capturing the Olympic Gold Medal. In fact, the Lansing, MI native is one of only seven players in the history of the sport to capture a NCAA championship, NBA championship and an Olympic Gold Medal. On September 27, 2002, Earvin received the highest honor a basketball player can receive as he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
During his remarkable 13-year career, he led the Lakers to five NBA championships (1980, ’82, ‘85, ’87 and ‘88) and nine appearances in the NBA Finals. The Lakers averaged 59 wins per season during the Magic Era, posting a combined .710 winning percentage in regular season and playoff competition (893-364). He was named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player on three occasions (1987, ‘89, ‘90), NBA Finals MVP three times (1980, ‘82, ‘87), earned All-NBA First Team honors nine times, participated in 12 All-Star Games (MVP in 1990, 92), and concluded his career as the league’s all-time assist leader (9,921). In January of 1996, Johnson briefly ended his retirement following a 4-1⁄2 year absence, leading the Lakers to a 29-11 record over the final 40 games of the 1995-96 season. During his brief return, he surpassed the 10,000 assist plateau (March 7, 1996 at Sacramento) and is one of only four players (John Stockton, Mark Jackson, Jason Kidd) to accomplish this feat.
Johnson was the Lakers first round choice (first overall) in the 1979 NBA Draft, becoming the club’s first-ever overall number one selection. The Lakers acquired the pick as compensation from New Orleans when the Jazz signed free agent guard Gail Goodrich prior the 1976-77 campaign (won coin flip with Chicago).
The Lakers posted the NBA’s second-best regular season record during Johnson’s initial season in 1979-80 (60-22) and proceeded to win the NBA championship, beginning a journey that would eventually earn the organization “Professional Sports Franchise of the Decade” honors from the Associated Press. Johnson’s brilliant 42-point, 15-rebound, 7-assist performance in the absence of injured center Kareem Abdul- Jabbar in the title clinching game at Philadelphia on May 16, 1980 remains one of the greatest feats by a first-year player in league history. His 42 points represents the highest scoring output for a rookie in NBA Finals history. For his scintillating performance, Magic became the first – and only – rookie to win MVP honors in the Finals.
One of the game’s greatest passers who had a flair for the dramatic, Magic orchestrated the Lakers’ famous “Showtime” offense. The 6’9” point guard, who revolutionized the position, paced the NBA in assists four separate seasons, highlighted by a career-best of 13.1 during the 1983-84 campaign. He established a club record with 24 assists November 17, 1989 vs. Denver, one of 31 occasions in which he registered 20-plus assists during his career. He became the NBA’s all-time assist leader on April 15, 1991 vs. Dallas, recording his 9,888th career assist on a feed to Terry Teagle (eclipsing Oscar Robertson’s 17-year mark). Although that mark has since been eclipsed, he still remains the league’s all-time leader in playoff assists (2,346), shares the NBA single-game playoff record for assists (24 vs. the Phoenix Suns on May 15, 1984) and averaged an NBA Finals record 14.0 assists in a six game series vs. Boston in 1985.
Earvin enjoyed his finest all-around campaign in 1986-87, averaging a career-high 23.9 points and 12.2 assists en route to his first NBA Most Valuable Player award and the first of back-to-back NBA titles for the Lakers.
He scored a career-best 46 points on December 23, 1986 vs. Sacramento, and topped the 40-point plateau 10 times overall. He concluded his career with a NBA record 138 triple-doubles and led the Lakers in scoring three seasons and in assists nine times. Additionally, he paced the NBA in steals during both the 1980-81 (3.43) and 1981-82 (2.67) campaigns. He became the only player in club history to lead the NBA in free throw percentage during the 1988-89 season (.911).
After his initial retirement from the NBA on November 7, 1991 due to the HIV virus, Johnson’s immense popularity resulted in his being voted as a starter in the 1992 All-Star Game. After a 25-point, nine-assist performance in Orlando, Johnson was named the game’s MVP. Later that year, he was a member of the 1992 United States gold medal-winning Olympic Basketball team in Barcelona. Following his second retirement in 1996, he ended his career ranked among the Lakers’ all-time leaders in virtually every statistical category, averaging 19.5 points, 11.2 assists, and 7.2 rebounds in 906 regular season contests.
Johnson starred two seasons collegiately at Michigan State University, where he led the Spartans to the Big Ten title as a freshman and to the NCAA championship as a sophomore. He earned MVP accolades of the 1979 Final Four as MSU defeated Indiana State and Larry Bird in the title game, and is one of only four players to capture NCAA and NBA championships in back-to-back seasons.
Often considered a “coach on the floor” during his playing days, Earvin spent a brief tenure as head coach of the Lakers late in the 1993-94 campaign. Assuming those duties on March 27, 1994, he guided the Lakers to a 5-11 mark over the final 16 games of the season.
Born August 14, 1959 in Lansing, MI., Johnson received the nickname “Magic” from Lansing sportswriter Fred Stabley, Jr. following a 36- point, 18-rebound, 16-assist performance for Everett High School, which he led to a state championship in 1977.
Earvin and his wife Cookie have three children and reside in Beverly Hills.