Johnson, Earvin "Magic"

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Johnson, Earvin "Magic"

August 14, 1959

Earvin "Magic" Johnson Jr. was born and raised in Lansing, Michigan, where he soon demonstrated an unusual aptitude for basketball. Despite the flair suggested by his nickname (which was given to him in 1974 by Fred Stabley Jr., a reporter for the Lansing State Journal ), Johnson's playing style was crafted out of devotion to basketball fundamentals and endless hours of practice. After leading his high school team to the state championship in his senior year, Johnson chose to attend college at nearby Michigan State University. He electrified crowds with his dazzling playmaking and the enthusiasm he displayed on the court while leading the Spartans to a national collegiate championship as a sophomore in 1979. At 6'9", he was perhaps the most agile ball handler for anyone of his size in the history of the game, and his combination of height, athletic skills, and passing ability brought a new dimension to the position of guard.

Johnson left Michigan State after his sophomore year, and at the age of twenty he joined the professional ranks, leading the Los Angeles Lakers to the National Basketball Association (NBA) Championship in 1980a feat they achieved four more times during the decade (in 1982, 1985, 1987, and 1988). Johnson holds the NBA record for assists (9,921) and was named the league's Most Valuable Player three times (1987, 1989, 1990), playoff MVP three times (1980, 1982, 1987), and All-Star Game MVP twice (1990, 1992). His desire to win translated into an unselfish style of play that elevated passing to an art form (his 10,141 career assists ranks him second in NBA history) and stressed teamwork over individual accolades. His charisma and court savvy helped to revive interest in the NBA, while his versatility transformed the game to one dominated by multitalented guards and forwards. Johnson's contributions on the court have been matched by his efforts and leadership away from it: He has worked for numerous charitable organizations and has raised several million dollars for the United Negro College Fund over the course of his career. With an engaging personality and smile, Johnson became one of the most famous and recognizable Americans in the 1980s.

Johnson retired from professional basketball in November 1991 when he revealed that he had tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). Following his announcement Johnson assumed a leadership role once again in working to raise research funds for, and awareness of, the disease. In 1992 he was appointed to the President's National Commission on AIDS, but he resigned soon thereafter when he became disillusioned with the government's efforts on behalf of AIDS research. Johnson kept AIDS in the public eye when he resumed his career shortly after guiding the U.S. basketball team to a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics. He attempted a comeback with the Lakers in the fall of 1992, but after some players in the league expressed reservations about playing with him because of his virus, he retired again. In that same year Johnson authored What You Can Do to Avoid AIDS, the net profits from which went to the Magic Johnson Foundation, which Johnson established for prevention, education, research, and care in the battle against AIDS. In mid-season 19951996 Johnson rejoined the badly faltering Lakers as a player-coach. He once again retired at the end of the season.

During his retirement Johnson continued his AIDS education efforts, and he encouraged businesses to enter inner-city neighborhoods, notably through his successful Magic Johnson Cineplex movie theater in South Central Los Angeles, opened in 1995. In 1997 he hosted a shortlived late-night talk show.

By 2001 Johnson had expanded his foundation's mission to include business ventures with Starbucks and a series of initiatives to increase minority homeownership, educational opportunities, and computer literacy. Because of the sophisticated drugs available to treat HIV-AIDS in the United States, Johnson is currently living with what many now consider a chronic disease, instead of a terminal condition.

See also AIDS in the Americas; Basketball


Aldridge, David. "Thankfully, Earvin's Obit Far from Written." Available from <>.

Friend, Tom. "Still Stunning the World 10 Years Later." Available from <>.

Johnson, Earvin "Magic," and Roy S. Johnson. Magic's Touch. Reading, Mass.: Addison-Wesley, 1989.

Pascarelli, Peter F. The Courage of Magic Johnson: From Boyhood Dreams to Superstar to His Toughest Challenge. New York: Starfire, 1991.

jill dupont (1996)
Updated by author 2005

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