Johnson, Earvin "Magic" (1959—)

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Johnson, Earvin "Magic" (1959—)

Earvin "Magic" Johnson was one of the marquee basketball players of his era. He began his National Basketball Association career in 1980. During the following decade, he and Larry Bird helped to elevate the popularity of professional basketball to previously unscaled heights. Johnson's wall-to-wall smile and ingratiating manner made him a favorite of hoop and non-hoop fans alike. Nonetheless, he will be remembered for much more than his exploits on the hardwood. On November 7, 1991, he shocked America—and the sporting world in particular—by announcing his retirement from basketball because he was HIV-positive. This admission, in such a public forum, forever altered the face of the AIDS plague. AIDS no longer could be ghettoized and trivialized as a disease whose sufferers were promiscuous gays and intravenous drug abusers, or lived far away on another continent.

Earvin Johnson, Jr., the sixth of ten children, grew up in Lansing, Michigan, and was dubbed "Magic" by a sportswriter after amassing some sterling statistics—36 points, 18 rebounds, and 16 assists—in a high school game. Wherever he played, Johnson helped to pilot a winner. For four straight years, he made the Michigan all-state high school team. In his senior year he tallied 28.8 points and 16.8 rebounds per game and led Lansing's Everett High School to a 27-1 record and the state championship. He attended Michigan State University, where as a freshman he guided the Spartans to a 25-5 record and their first Big Ten championship in 19 years. He capped his college career in 1979, when he was a sophomore. That season, Michigan State won the NCAA title and Johnson, who averaged 17.1 points per game, was named the tournament's most outstanding player.

The 6 [.minute] 9 [.second] point guard decided to turn pro after his second year at Michigan State and was selected by the Los Angeles Lakers as the first overall pick in the 1979 NBA draft. In his first year with the team, he maintained his status as a winner by helping the Lakers take the NBA title. He capped off his season by being the first rookie cited as MVP of the NBA finals. In the deciding game against the Philadelphia 76ers, he replaced an ailing Kareem Adbul-Jabbar at center and went on to score 42 points, adding 15 rebounds and seven assists in a 123-107 victory. However, Johnson lost Rookie of the Year honors to Larry Bird, who become one of his chief on-court adversaries during the 1980s.

In his 13 seasons with the Lakers, Johnson astounded fans and players alike with his no-look passes, clutch baskets, and "showtime" style of offense. He led the team to four additional NBA titles, with the Lakers' 1987 victory against Bird and the Boston Celtics especially sweet. In the deciding minutes of Game 4, with the Celts holding a one-point lead, Johnson won the contest with an Abdul-Jabbar-like sky hook. The Lakers went on to beat their rivals in six games.

In 1987, 1989, and 1990, Johnson was the league's MVP; he also earned two additional MVP citations for starring in the NBA finals. Prior to his retirement he played in 11 All-Star Games, and in 1990 he was the contest's MVP. Between 1983 and 1991, he was first-team all-NBA. He led the NBA in assists on four occasions. During the 1990-91 season he broke the all-time NBA assists record and completed his career with 10,141.

Johnson came out of retirement to score 25 points and make nine assists in the 1992 NBA All-Star game, helping the West earn a 153-113 victory and winning a second All-Star MVP trophy. Near the end of the contest, he inspired the crowd by making successive three-point shots while being defended by Michael Jordan and Isaiah Thomas. Johnson joined Jordan, Bird and other NBA stars as a member of the U.S. Olympic Dream Team, which drubbed opponents by an average of 43.8 points per game, earned a Gold Medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and helped to escalate the sport's popularity across the globe. He then announced his pro comeback, but retired again prior to the beginning of the 1992-93 NBA season. In March, 1994, Johnson became head coach of the Lakers, but quit as the team completed the season with a 5-11 record. He also became a minority owner of the team and came out of retirement one last time during the 1995-96 season, in which he played in 32 Lakers games. Also in 1996, he was cited as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History.

In his post-NBA career, "Magic" Johnson has been a frequent guest on TV talk shows. His own venture into late-night television, The Magic Hour, flopped soon after its 1998 premiere. More importantly, he is a celebrity who has eagerly donated his services to an array of charitable organizations. He has been active as a fundraiser for the Starlight Foundation, the American Heart Association, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the American Cancer Society, the United Negro College Fund, and the Urban League. He has offered his name and his presence to a host of HIV/AIDs awareness programs. He established the Magic Johnson Foundation, which bestows grants to community-based, youth-oriented organizations.

He became chairman and chief executive officer of Magic Johnson Enterprises, whose projects include the Johnson Development Corporation, Magic Johnson All-Star Camps, and Magic Johnson Theaters. He believes that all business endeavors must benefit society and so his theater chain, developed in conjunction with Sony Entertainment, consists of state-of-the-art multiplex cinemas located in economically depressed urban neighborhoods. The first opened in Baldwin Hills, a run-down area of Los Angeles.

—Rob Edelman

Further Reading:

Gutman, Bill. Magic, More Than a Legend. New York, Harper Paperbacks, 1992.

Haskins, Jim. "Magic": A Biography of Earvin Johnson. Hillside, New Jersey, Enslow Publishers, 1981.

Johnson, Earvin, and Richard Levin. Magic. New York, Viking Press, 1983.

Johnson, Earvin, and Roy S. Johnson. Magic's Touch. Reading, Massachusetts, Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, 1989.

Johnson, Earvin, with William Novak. My Life. New York, Random House, 1992.

Pascarelli, Peter. The Courage of Magic Johnson: From Boyhood Dreams to Superstar to His Toughest Challenge. New York, Bantam Books, 1992.

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Johnson, Earvin "Magic" (1959—)

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