Magic Johnson: The Smiling Assassin Who Saved the NBA

Magic Johnson

Few basketball players conjure more awe and admiration than Los Angeles Lakers legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson. With his megawatt smile and scintillating style of play, Magic resurrected the struggling NBA in the 1980s alongside childhood rival Larry Bird, ushering in a golden era that restored the league to prominence after years of decline.

The 6’9’’ Magic redefined perceptions of what positions could look like thanks to his unrivaled court vision and passing wizardry. Though labeled a point guard, he towered over opponents while dishing no-look dimes on the break and pulling up for silky mid-range jumpers in the halfcourt. His adventurous outlets and crisp look-aheads catalyzed the famed “Showtime” Lakers fast break attack that often left defenders demoralized.

But beyond the highlight reel assists, Magic delivered when the stakes were highest. In just his rookie season, he audaciously stepped in at center in the 1980 Finals while longtime starter Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was injured. Magic’s iconic 42-point, 15-rebound, 7-assist masterpiece to clinch the title signaled the arrival of a megastar unafraid of any spotlight.

By the end of his 13-year career prematurely cut short by his HIV diagnosis, Magic owned 5 championships and 3 MVPs as he resuscitated the NBA’s fan appeal with his infectious smile and flair. Today his jersey hangs proudly at Staples Center, his mythical exploits still eliciting gasps of awe for how basketball should be played – with pizzazz, teamwork and an ear-to-ear grin.


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