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Magic Johnson

Taking Off

Johnson stayed in his hometown for college, attending Michigan State University. As a freshman, he led the team to a Big Ten championship. In Johnson's sophomore year, the Spartans advanced to the 1979 NCAA Championship finals. It was in this game, against Indiana State University, that he had his first well-publicized match-up with ISU star and later Boston Celtic Larry Bird, with whom he maintained a friendly rivalry throughout his career. The Spartans won the game 75-64 and it was Johnson who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. After this stunning victory, Johnson forfeited his remaining two years of college eligibility and turned pro. He was the first pick for the Los Angeles Lakers in 1979 and became the team's key to winning the NBA championship that season. With star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar injured and unable to play in the sixth game of the finals, Johnson started at center. Scoring forty-two points and grabbing fifteen rebounds, he led his team to victory and was named tournament MVP.

Johnson's second year for the Lakers was not nearly so magical. In addition to suffering a knee injury that forced him to miss forty-six games that season, tension had begun to mount between the popular player and his teammates. When the Lakers lost to the Houston Rockets in the first round of the NBA Championship playoffs, Johnson was largely blamed for the defeat. The fact that he subsequently signed a $25 million contract to remain with the Lakers increased the animosity, and raised the ire of fans, as did his public criticism of Lakers coach Paul Westhead, who was fired the day after Johnson asked, via the media, to be traded. Following these events, Johnson was booed on many courts, both away and at home. Ever fickle, teammates and fans began to come around when Johnson, under new coach Pat Riley, led the team to a second NBA Championship in the 1981-82 season, for which he was again named MVP. Johnson also experienced a personal roller-coaster during this time: a high school friend with whom he had a brief casual relationship announced that she was pregnant. On February 20, 1981, Johnson's son Andre was born.

After losing the championship to the Philadelphia 76ers in 1983, the Lakers entered into one of the most enduring rivalries in all of professional basketball, alternating tournament wins with the Boston Celtics for the next five seasons. A second rivalry, between Johnson and Celtics star Bird, naturally built up over this time as well. While both Johnson and Bird initially lived up to the media portrayals of them as opponents off-court as well as on, exchanging glares and refusing to shake hands, the pair eventually became close friends. So close, in fact, that Johnson imagined the pair retiring at the exact same moment: "It's the seventh game of the Finals, the Lakers against the Celtics. There's one minute left in the game and score is tied. And then, suddenly, it's time to leave. Larry and I just shake hands, walk off the court, and disappear." Prior to retirement, though, Johnson credited Bird with pushing him to play his best ball. "We feed off one another, that's why we go on," he told the Los Angeles Times.

The Celtics won the first of the five-year string of championship bouts, spurring the press to, for a time, refer to Johnson as "Tragic" and his team the "Los Angeles Fakers." Johnson and his teammates turned it around the following year, however, beating the Celtics four games to two. The Lakers didn't make the final round in 1985-86, and the Celtics went on to take the title from the Houston Rockets. But the Lakers came back with a vengeance the next season, again beating the Celtics in the finals four games to two. That year, Johnson averaged 21.8 points per game, led the league in assists with 12.2 per game, and led his team to an NBA-best 65 wins. For his efforts, he was awarded his first-ever league Most Valuable Player award. He was named MVP of the tournament again that year as well. It was the last time he and Bird met each other in the NBA finals.

Awards and Accomplishments

1974-76 Michigan Class A All-State Team
1976 Michigan Class A Championship Team
1979 NCAA Championship Team
1980 NBA All-Rookie Team
1980, 1982-92 NBA All-Star Team
1980, 1982, 1985, 1987-88 NBA Championship Team
1980, 1982, 1987 MVP NBA Championship
1982 All-NBA second team
1982 Citizenship Award
1983-91 All-NBA first team
1984 Schick Pivotal Player award
1984 IBM All-Around Contributions to Team Success Award
1987 Player of the Year, Sporting News
1987, 1989-90 League MVP
1990, 1992 MVP NBA All-Star Game
1992 U.S. Olympic Gold Medal
2002 ROBIE Humanitarianism Award (Jackie Robinson Foundation)
2002 Named to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame

Life After Death

November 7, 1991, was one of those seismic Where-were-you-when-you-heard? moments in American culture. Even if you didn't follow pro sports, you knew Magic—whose last name, like Michael's and Larry's, was superfluous—was part of the holy triumvirate that had saved pro basketball. There he was, telling us, with the imprecise language that was part of his charm, that he had "attained" the AIDS virus, as if it were another goal he'd reached in a storied career: five championship rings, three MVP awards, three Finals MVP awards, one deadly disease. From what information he gave us in succeeding days, it was in fact a form of attainment, the consequence of sexual encounters—heterosexual encounters, Magic emphasized as rumors about his sexual orientation swirled—in offices, in elevators, with multiple partners, the profane fruit of the Penthouse Forum fantasy life available to superstars….

Ten years. Michael has retired, unretired, retired and perhaps unretired again. Larry is just gone. The Lakers have fallen and risen. And Magic is still here. Millions of young people have never lived in a culture without AIDS. Almost all of us know someone who has died of the disease, but almost all of us know someone who is living with it, too. Ten years. We know everything about AIDS. We know nothing.

Source: McCallum, Jack. Sports Illustrated (August 20, 2001): 70+.

In 1988, Johnson faced another close friend across the court as the season came to a close. Playing the Detroit Pistons for the title this year, Johnson's and Piston guard Isiah Thomas's mutual respect and deep friendship was demonstrated when the pair kissed before the opening tip-off of Game One. Ultimately, Johnson went home with the trophy, as the Lakers bested the Pistons four games to three. By this time, the star of Hollywood celebrities' favorite team—Lakers fans included Jack Nicholson, Michael Douglas and Michael Jackson—had become a celebrity himself, and he found it necessary to travel with bodyguards and reside in a guarded estate due to his immense popularity. Johnson and Thomas faced each other again in the 1989 NBA Championship, but this time Thomas emerged the victor, with Johnson sitting out a portion of the final series due to an injured hamstring. Still, Johnson was awarded his second MVP award for his regular-season play. While his team did not progress to the finals the next season (although Johnson was again named league MVP), Johnson made one more championship trip in 1990, facing the Chicago Bulls. Again, he emerged disappointed, with the Bulls winning four games to one. While he did not know it at the time, this series marked the end of Johnson's NBA career.

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Famous Sports StarsBasketballMagic Johnson Biography - From "june Bug" To "magic", Chronology, Taking Off, Awards And Accomplishments - CONTACT INFORMATION