We are now in the top 5 of my NBA 75 Greatest Players of All Time https://www.djssportsshow.com/post/nba-75-greatest-players-of-all-time! At #5 is the greatest point guard of all time whose smile, game, and personality fitted perfectly with the “Showtime Lakers” of the 1980s that dominated the decade winning five championships in the span of the decade. That man is Earvin “Magic” Johnson. Magic was born on August 14th, 1959, in Lansing, Michigan to his mother Christine, and father Earvin Sr. His mother worked as a janitor while his father worked as an assembly worker.
Johnson came to love basketball by idolizing Bill Russell whom he revered due to the number of championships he won as the team leader. He would learn the fundamentals of the game from his father who played high school basketball in Mississippi. He had his first dunk in just the eighth grade, which is when he decided to think about a future in playing basketball. Magic once scored 48 points in a junior high game, which was just scratching the surface of what he would become.
Johnson would attend to go to Sexton High School five blocks from where he lived. It was a school that had a very successful basketball team, but things would take a turn when he would end up going to a predominantly white school in Everett High School instead of Sexton which is predominantly black. Everett is where Johnson would first be dubbed his nickname “Magic” as a 15-year-old sophomore on the basketball team due to his creative ball-handling and passing ability that dazzled fans because they have never seen anything like it.
He once recorded a triple-double of 36 points, 18 rebounds, and 16 assists where former Lansing State journalist Fred Stabley Jr gave him the moniker. Johnson led Everett to a 27-1 record with averages of 28.8 points and 16.8 rebounds per game while taking his team to an overtime victory in the state championship game. Johnson dedicated the title to his best friend Reggie Chasitine who tragically passed away in a car accident the previous summer.
Johnson would finish his high school career with two all-state selections and be considered the best player to ever come out of Michigan while being named a member of the 1977 McDonald’s All-American team. He would be recruited by many of the top blue-blood colleges in the country from Indiana to UCLA to Michigan but chose to stay home by playing for the Michigan State Spartans when head coach Jud Heathcote allowed Johnson to play the point guard position.
He played with future NBA draftees such as Greg Kelser, Jay Vincent, and Mike Brkovich. Johnson would average 17 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 7.4 assists as a freshman to help lead the Spartans to a 25-5 record, a Big Ten Conference Title, and a berth to the 1978 NCAA Tournament. The Spartans reached the Elite Eight that season but lost to the eventual national champions, the Kentucky Wildcats where he shot just 2-of-10 from the field (20%) for just six points.
Johnson returned for his sophomore season in 1978-79 after that bitter ending in the tournament last season. He averaged 17.1 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 8.4 assists on 46% from the field and got selected for first-team All-Big Ten and consensus first-team All-American. The Spartans qualified for the tournament once again after a 26-6 record overall and 13-5 in the conference.
Johnson led the Spartans all the way to the championship game to play his future NBA rival Larry Bird and the Indiana State Sycamores in the most-watched college basketball game of all time. The Spartans defeated the Sycamores 75-64, finishing with 24 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists on 8-of-15 (53%) shooting from the field, being voted the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four.
Johnson would conclude his collegiate career as a national champion with career a average of 17.1 points, 7.6 rebounds, and 7.9 assists. He would enter the 1979 NBA Draft where he became the first overall pick by the Los Angeles Lakers where he would play alongside the great Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, who became the league’s all-time leading scorer, and for coach Jack McKinney and owner Jerry Buss.
He was one of the most unique players to ever play the game standing 6-feet-9 inches tall as a true point guard who made his teammates better and had arguably the greatest rookie season ever with averages of 18 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.3 assists. Johnson would be selected as an All-Star starter in just this first season as well as being named to the All-Rookie first team.
Johnson helped lead the Lakers to a 60-22 record and reach the NBA Finals in 1980 in which they faced the Philadelphia 76ers led by Julius Erving. The Lakers took a 3-2 series lead but Abdul-Jabbar, who averaged 33 points per game in that series, sprained his ankle in Game 5 which caused him to miss Game 6. Coach Paul Westphal, who replaced McKinney that same season after a near-fatal bicycle accident placed Johnson at center in place of Jabbar. Talk about putting pressure on a rookie by trying to replace an MVP in the Finals.
But the “Magic” man would prevail by going on to have a Finals performance for the ages by scoring 42 points, grabbing 15 rebounds, dishing out 7 assists, and swiping away 3 steals in a 123-107 win while putting on a fascinating display of versatility by playing guard, forward and center. He became the only rookie to ever be named NBA Finals MVP and one of four players to win an NCAA title and NBA title in back-to-back years.
It was only the beginning for Johnson, as he would become the engine for the “Showtime” Lakers of the 80s and the greatest point guard of all time who helped save the league, alongside Bird. When Magic came into the league the NBA Finals were on tape delay, that’s how bad things were when he and Larry came in. He brought happy, exciting energy to the league with that charm of a smile he always had on that 6’9 frame of his.
But, don’t let that fool you as he was the ultimate competitor winning five championships in nine finals appearances, three NBA MVPs, three Finals MVPs, a 12-time all-star, 10 all-NBAs, two All-Star MVPs, four-time assists leader, and two-time steals leader. He is the greatest passer and point guard the league has ever seen and it will probably forever stay that way.