Earvin “Magic” Johnson recently celebrated his 50th birthday, a minor miracle considering the man told the whole world 18 years ago that he was HIV positive.
Though he’s been out of professional basketball for more than a decade, Magic has found a way to stay relevant. He stays visible as part owner of the his beloved Los Angeles Lakers, has several business ventures that remains a focal point in his life, worked as a studio analyst on TNT and this year joined the ESPN family of networks.
Though we have develop an affinity for his insightful and colorful takes on TV, Magic Johnson’s best moments have come on the basketball court. As a tribute to Magic, who wore No. 32 throughout his NBA career (all with the Lakers), here is a list of Magic’s 32 greatest athletic achievements.
32. That smile. Whenever he flashes that million-dollar smile, he lights up an entire arena. He played with great passion and joy. He will be remembered as the face of Showtime.
31. Led Everett High School (Lansing, Mich.) to victory in the State A championship in 1977.
30. Named to the 1977 McDonald’s High School All-American team, a squad that also featured Al Wood, Gene Banks, Albert King, Jeff Ruland, Ray Tolbert and Darnell Valentine.
29. After just two seasons at Michigan State, the Los Angeles Lakers made Earvin “Magic” Johnson the No. 1 overall selection in the 1979 NBA draft.
28. Before the start of the 1981-82 season, Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss signed Magic to an astronomical 25-year, $25 million contract. No wonder all those fabulous females at the Forum couldn’t wait to see Magic.
27. Made 19 free throws in one half during a playoff game against Golden State in 1991.
26. In 1990, he was selected the MVP of the All-Star Game. He made nine of 15 shots from the field, sank four of six 3-pointers, and finished with 22 points.
25. Though he’s never noted for his one-on-one defense, Johnson is an underrated team defender. He led the league in steals in 1980-81 (3.4) and and 1981-82 (2.6).
24. On June 3, 1984, his 21 assists against Boston set the NBA Finals record for most assists in a game.
23. Finished his NBA career, which spanned 13 years, with the highest assist-per-game average at 11.2. He still holds the all-time playoff record with 2,346 assists.
22. Posted 138 triple-doubles during his career, which is second only to Oscar Robertson’s 181.
21. Established the record for most assists in an All-Star Game when he dished out 22 in 1984.
20. With time winding down in the first half of a playoff game against the Denver Nuggets in 1987, Magic rebounds an errant shot and flings the ball almost 90 feet and rattles it home.
19. Led the league in assists with 13.1 average during the 1983-84 season.
18. His pinpoint passing. He basically invented the 5o-foot bounce pass and the no-look, wrap-around pass. Whether it’s James Worthy, Kurt Rambis, A.C. Green, Jamaal Wilkes, Michael Cooper or Byron Scott on the receiving end, nobody could do a one-handed bounce pass from halfcourt better than Magic. His best no-look, wrap-around pass on a 3-on-2 fast break came at Phoenix when Johnson looked left, wrapped the ball around his waist and flipped a left-handed pass to Scott for a slam dunk.
17. Captured his second regular-season MVP award in 1989, leading the Lakers in points (22.5), assists (12.8) and minutes played (37). He also posted an NBA-best 91.1% free throw percentage. The Lakers won 11 consecutive playoffs game before injuries to Johnson and Byron Scott derailed their championship hopes as the Detroit Pistons swept L.A. in the Finals.
16. During a regular season game in December of 1987 at Boston Garden, Magic fielded a pass from Michael Cooper and swished a 22-foot, game-winning bank shot from the left side of the court, fading away and jumping off his right foot. Johnson’s shot gave the Lakers a 115-114 victory over the Celtics.
15. The birth of “Showtime” basketball coincided with Pat Riley taking over as head coach during the 1981-82 season. With Magic leading the up-tempo attack, the Lakers ran teams off the court and ended up as NBA champs. Magic was named Finals MVP, averaging nearly a triple double during the playoffs (17.4 points, 11.3 rebounds and 9.3 assists).
14. Four months after announcing his retirement, Johnson was selected to play in the 1992 NBA All-Star game in Orlando. In 29 minutes, Magic made nine of 12 shots from the field, including three 3-pointers in a row. He finished with 25 points and nine assists, and was named the game’s MVP.
13. After absorbing heavy criticism the previous season, Magic came back and helped the Lakers exorcise the ghosts that has haunted the Lakers in the Boston Garden in the 1985 Finals. Magic assisted Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in getting the series MVP. Magic averaged 18.3 points 6.8 rebounds and 14 assists in the six-game series.
12. Collected his third MVP trophy in the 1989-90 season. One of just seven players to be named regular season MVP at least three times. Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, Moses Malone, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell are the others.
11. In April of 1991, Magic surpassed Oscar Robertson’s all-time assist record. He tied the Big O’s record of 9,887 when he found James Worthy for a short jump shot. Then, less than six minutes left in the second quarter, he broke the record with an assist to Terry Teagle.
10. Led Michigan State to the 1979 Final Four and was named the most outstanding player after his Spartans defeated Indiana State, led by Larry Bird, in the championship game. The 1979 NCAA final is still the highest rated televised game in men’s basketball tournament history.
9. Led the L.A. Lakers to back-to-back NBA titles in 1988, defeating the Detroit Pistons – led by his good friend Isiah Thomas – in seven games. In 24 playoff games, Magic averaged 19.9 points and 12. 6 assists.
8. Named one of the NBA’s 50 Greatest Players in 1996, which was selected by a blue-ribbon panel of media, former players and coaches, current and former general managers and team executives.
7. Selected to the United States men’s Olympic basketball team in 1992, forming the greatest collection of superstars on one squad. The Dream Team went undefeated during the Barcelona Olympics and its average margin of victory was 45 points. Christian Laettner, the 12th man on the Dream Team, was asked who was the most impressive player in practice. He said, “Magic Johnson.” Why? Laettner reasoned that Magic always made the right play.
6. Elected to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. Magic said: “The Olympics was probably my biggest thrill to date, but (the Hall of Fame) is bigger than that. This closes everything as far as basketball.” Magic was enshrined along with the late Drazen Petrovic, coaches Larry Brown, Lute Olson and Kay Yow, and the Harlem Globetrotters.
5. His best statistical season came during the 1986-87 season when he posted a career high 23.9 points per game and a league-leading 12.2 assists. At 27, Magic was in the prime of his career and won the first of his three regular-season MVPs. his offensive game had never been better. Besides leading the team in scoring and assists, he was also third in rebounds (6.3), first in steals (138), shot 52% from the field and 84% from the free throw line.
4. After leading the Lakers to an NBA-best 65-17 record in 1986-87, Magic kept his foot on the gas pedal in the postseason as he led L.A. to a 15-3 playoff mark and a sixth appearance in the NBA Finals in eight seasons. He averaged 21. 8 points and 12.2 assists 18 playoff games. In the Finals, Magic’s Lakers met Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics for the third time. The Lakers won the series in six games and Magic won his third Finals MVP trophy.
3. In his NBA rookie season, he led the Lakers to the 1980 NBA Finals against Dr. J and Philadelphia 76ers. When Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could not play in Game 6 because of badly sprained ankle, Magic started at center, played guard and forward and scored 42 points, grabbed 15 rebounds and had seven assists in the series-clincher to earn the MVP of the Finals. Magic still calls it the greatest game he has ever played.
2. The great Laker announcer Chick Hearn called it. “Magic down the middle, just what I thought, a hook shot from 12….GOOD!” On what became known as the Junior Sky Hook, Magic’s game-winning basket over Kevin McHale and Robert Parish with two seconds left in Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals became the signature moment of his career. After the game, Larry Bird said “Magic is just a great basketball player.” Magic said “it was the greatest shot I ever took, and the greatest shot I ever made.”
1. Fred Stabley Jr., a sportswriter for the Lansing State Journal, told a young man out of Everett High School named Earvin Johnson Jr. that he needed a nickname for his unbelievable skills on the basketball court. Because Dr. J was already taken and Big E was Elvin Hayes, Stabley suggested “Magic” and the alias became one of the recognizable titles in sports history. Thank you, Mr. Stabley, for helping Earvin Johnson complete the single greatest act of his athletic career. It is, quite simply, magical.