Magic Johnson Biography

Earvin "Magic" Johnson is a retired Hall of Fame NBA point guard who played 13 seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers. Johnson helped lead Michigan State University to a National Championship and was eventually the top overall pick in the 1979 NBA Draft. With the Lakers, Johnson won five NBA titles and was a three-time Most Valuable Player. His career was cut short in November 1991 after testing positive for the HIV virus. Johnson became an advocate for the HIV and AIDS virus as a result. After a 4- year layoff, Johnson would return to the Lakers for 32 games in 1996. Johnson was selected to the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time team in 1997 and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. Following his retirement, Johnson established himself as a successful businessman with a portfolio that has included AMC Magic Johnson movie theatres, more than100 Starbucks locations, a range of Burger King franchises and 24 Hour Fitness Magic Sport centers. Currently, Johnson is a studio analyst for ESPN/ABC.

Early Years

Earvin "Magic" Johnson, Jr. was born on August 14, 1959 in Lansing, Michigan. Johnson was the sixth of 10 children to Earvin Sr., who worked at a General Motors plant, and Christine Johnson, who was a custodian. Johnson earned his legendary nickname of "Magic" as a 15-year-old sophomore at Everett High School. After watching Johnson score 36 points, 16 rebounds and 16 assists, Fred Stably, Jr., sportswriter with the Lansing State Journal, dubbed him "Magic." Johnson's mother, a devout Christian, disapproved of the nickname. As a sophomore, Johnson led Everett to its first regional basketball championship. During his senior season at Everett High School, Johnson led his team to a 27-1 record and the state title, averaging 28.8 points and 16.8 rebounds per game.

College Career

In order to stay close to home, Johnson enrolled at Michigan State University in East Lansing, turning down offers from UCLA and Indiana. As a freshman, Johnson averaged 17 points, 7.9 rebounds and 7.4 assists per game, leading Michigan State to a Big Ten Conference title. With a 25-5 record, it was the first time the Spartans won more than 20 games in school history. Michigan State made the NCAA Tournament but bowed out in the Elite Eight to the eventual national champion, Kentucky. The following season, Johnson put up similar statistics (17.1 ppg, 7.3 rbg, 8.4 apg) but was able to lead the Spartans to the NCAA Championship, defeating Indiana State and soon-to-be rival, Larry Bird. The game drew a 24.1 rating on NBC, the highest rating for a college basketball game, with the Spartans defeating the Sycamores 75-64. Johnson was voted as the Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four. After two seasons at Michigan State, Johnson declared himself for the 1979 NBA Draft.

Professional Career

The Los Angeles Lakers selected Johnson with the first overall pick in the 1979 NBA Draft, acquiring the pick three years earlier from the Utah Jazz in a trade for Gail Goodrich. Johnson hit the court running as a rookie, earning a nod as a starter in the NBA All-Star Game and was a selection on the NBA All-Rookie Team. Despite averaging 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 7.3 assists per game, the NBA Rookie of the Year award went to former Indiana State rival Larry Bird, who was drafted by the Boston Celtics.

Johnson's versatility was discovered in the 1980 NBA Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers. After center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was sidelined in Game 6 with a sprained ankle, the 6-foot-9 Johnson was plugged in as center. Johnson scored 42 points (14-for-23 from the field, 14-for-14 from the foul line), to go along with 15 rebounds, seven assists and three steals as the Lakers won the title with a 123-107 victory. Johnson is the only rookie to win the NBA Finals MVP award and won NCAA and NBA titles in consecutive seasons.

The following season, Johnson tore cartilage in his left knee, sidelining him for 45 games. Johnson returned on Feb. 27, 1981 and averaged 22.4 points the final 16 games of the season. The Houston Rockets eliminated the Lakers in the first-round of the NBA Playoffs.

After establishing himself as a NBA star on the rise, Johnson flexed his power and demanded the Lakers trade him or fire head coach Paul Westhead six games into the 1981-82 season. The following day, Lakers owner Jerry Buss fired Westhead and promoted assistant coach Pat Riley. For the only time in his career, Laker fans booed Johnson for getting Westhead fired. It was the only time in his career other than 1980-81 when Johnson wasn't selected as a starter for the All-Star game. Winning cures everything and fans had a reason to cheer as the Los Angeles Lakers went 57-25 on their way to another NBA Finals victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. Johnson earned his second NBA Finals MVP award in the process.

In 1982-83, Johnson won his first of four assists titles, leading the league with 10.5 assists per game. It helped land Johnson on the All-NBA First team for the first time in his career. For the third time in four years, Johnson and the Lakers would take on the 76ers in the NBA Finals. But due to several key injuries to Norm Nixon, James Worthy and Bob McAdoo, Philadelphia swept Los Angeles for the 1983 NBA title.

During the 1983-84 season, Johnson averaged a career-high 13.1 assists per game, setting up the first of three Finals showdowns with Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics. In the 1984 Finals, three key errors in Game's 2, 4, and 7 by Johnson would ultimately cost the Lakers the NBA title. With the game tied in Game 2, Johnson failed to get off a shot before the buzzer, sending the contest in overtime and leading to a Celtics victory. In Game 4, Robert Parish had a crucial steal on Johnson and would miss two late free throws, resulting in another overtime loss for the Lakers. In the deciding Game 7 with the Lakers trailing by three, Celtics guard stole the ball from Johnson, ending the series.

The two teams would meet again the following year in the 1985 Finals with the Lakers getting off on the wrong foot in a 148-114 loss that was dubbed the "Memorial Day Massacre." However, Johnson and the Lakers would bounce back and defeat the Celtics in six games to capture the NBA title; the third in Johnson's career.

After the Houston Rockets prevented the Lakers from making another trip to the Finals in 1985-86, Johnson would respond the following season with his first regular season Most Valuable Player Award and another trip against the Celtics in the NBA Finals. In Game 4 with time winding out, Johnson hit a sky-hook over Celtics big men Robert Parish and Kevin McHale to give the Lakers a 107-106 victory. Los Angeles would go on to win in six games and Johnson was awarded his third NBA Finals MVP title, averaging 26.2 points, 13.0 assists and 8.0 rebounds per game.

Johnson and the Lakers would say goodbye to their rivals in Boston and hello to the Detroit Pistons, as the two teams would square off the next two seasons in the NBA Finals. After two seven-game series with the Utah Jazz and Dallas Mavericks, Johnson and the Lakers would get their first look at the "Bad Boys." Los Angeles would need seven games in defeating the Pistons, giving Johnson back-to-back NBA titles.

In Abdul-Jabbar's final season, Johnson was awarded his second MVP Award, averaging 22.5 points, 12.8 assists and 7.9 rebounds per game. In a rematch with the Pistons in the NBA Finals, a hamstring injury would sideline Johnson during Game 2, leading to an eventual sweep by Detroit.

With Abdul-Jabbar retired, Johnson won his third MVP Award in 1989-90 but the Phoenix Suns knocked out the Lakers in the Western Conference Semifinals. The hiatus from the NBA Finals for Johnson and the Lakers would only last a year with Los Angeles returning during the 1990-91 season against Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. Johnson's two triple-doubles weren't enough to stop Jordan and the Bulls, winning in five games.

Before the start of the 1991-92 season, Johnson discovered that he tested positive for the HIV virus. On November 7, 1991, Johnson announced his immediate retirement from the NBA. Johnson would later admit that he contracted the disease from having multiple sexual partners during his career. His wife, Cookie, and their unborn child did not contract the HIV virus. Johnson was voted as a starter for the 1992 NBA All-Star game despite his retirement. Others in the NBA, such as Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone, weren't ready to welcome Johnson back with open arms, but that wouldn't prevent him from leading the West to a 153-113 victory and MVP honors. Johnson would hit a fade away three-pointer with time running out, sending both teams in a frenzy.

Johnson was selected for the 1992 Olympic basketball team, dubbed the "Dream Team," which won handily in Barcelona. Johnson played in six of the eight Olympic games, averaging 8.0 points and 5.5 assists per game.

On Sept. 29, 1992, Johnson announced his comeback to the NBA but would later change his mind a month later, citing increasing concerns by his peers about playing basketball with him.

With an itch to still be involved in basketball, Johnson became head coach of the Lakers towards the end of the 1993-94 season, replacing Randy Pfund. After losing five out of his first six games as coach, Johnson announced he would resign at the end of the season. In 16 games, Johnson went 5-11 as head coach. Instead of coaching, Johnson would become a minority owner of the Lakers, purchasing 5 percent of the franchise in 1994.

At the age of 36, Johnson made a brief comeback with the Lakers during the 1995-96 season In his first game back in over 4 years, Johnson had 19 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds against the Golden State Warriors. Shifting to the point forward position, the 255-pound Johnson averaged 14.6 points, 6.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds in 32 games. The Lakers were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Houston and Johnson would retire from the game once again - - for good this time.

In his 13 NBA seasons Johnson compiled 17,707 points (19.5 ppg), 6,559 rebounds (7.2 rpg) and 10,141 assists (11.2 apg) in addition to 1,724 steals. Johnson was selected to the NBA's 50th Anniversary All-Time team in 1997 and was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002.

Post-Playing Career

Business Ventures

Johnson founded Magic Johnson Enterprises in 1987 and serves as the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer. His portfolio includes four AMC Magic Johnson movie theatres, over 100 Starbucks locations, a range of Burger King franchises throughout the South and thirteen 24 Hour Fitness Magic Sport centers.

Johnson is also behind the Canyon-Johnson Urban Fund, which was founded in 1998 in an alliance with Canyon Capital, an alternative asset manager. It is the largest private equity fund focused on the revitalization of ethnically diverse communities.


In 1998, Johnson hosted a late night talk show called "The Magic Hour" on the Fox network. The show lasted two months and was cancelled due to low ratings.

Johnson was a studio analyst for TNT between 2001-2008. He left for a similar role at ESPN, where he is on "GMC NBA Countdown" with Jon Barry, Michael Wilbon and Stuart Scott.

HIV Activism

After Johnson was diagnosed with the HIV virus, he founded the Magic Johnson Foundation in 1991. The nonprofit foundation focuses on developing programs to aid community-based organizations that focus on educational, health and social needs of urban locations. Johnson was briefly on the National Commission on AIDS for eight months before stepping down.


Johnson married his longtime girlfriend, Earlitha "Cookie" Kelly, in 1991. The couple had one son together, Earvin III, and they adopted a daughter, Elisa, in 1995. Johnson had a son, Andre, in a previous relationship in 1981. Andre currently serves as Vice President of Business Development for Magic Johnson Enterprises.