Los Angeles Lakers legend Magic Johnson is one of the greatest players to have ever dribbled a basketball. With five championships and three Finals MVPs to his credit, the former Michigan State standout cemented his place among the league’s most iconic figures during his illustrious career.
In this piece, we’ll take a look back at 10 of Magic’s greatest moments with the Lakers.
10. Magic’s first NBA game
The Lakers selected Magic Johnson with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1979 NBA Draft. In Los Angeles, he would go on to play alongside other legends like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy.
In his first NBA game, Johnson led the Lakers to victory over the San Diego Clippers, notching 26 points, eight rebounds and four assists. When Kareem hit the game-winning shot, Magic rushed over and jumped into his arms, filled with obvious excitement:
Johnson averaged 18.0 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 7.3 assists per game over the course of his rookie season. As a result of his outstanding play, he was selected to the NBA’s All-Rookie Team and was named a starter for the NBA All-Star Game.
9. 24 assists vs. Suns
Without a doubt, Magic Johnson is one of the best passers the NBA has ever known. This aspect of his game was on full display in a game against the Phoenix Suns in November 1984. Remarkably, Johnson dished out a record 24 assists in the 14-point victory:
For a bit of perspective, his 24 assists were nine more than Denver had as a team.
8. Defeating Larry Bird and Celtics in ’85 Finals
Hoops fans around the globe are familiar with the rivalry that existed between the Lakers and Celtics in the ’70s and ’80s. In the 1985 Finals, Magic Johnson finally managed to defeat Larry Bird and his Celtics, 4-2, and he did it inside The Garden.
In this series, Magic averaged 18.3 points, 14.0 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game. Notably, it was the first time that the Lakers had beaten the Celtics in a playoff series:
7. 1987 MVP
Magic Johnson enjoyed many great seasons throughout his NBA career, but none were finer than his 1987 campaign. In his 80 games played with the Lakers that season, he racked up averages of 23.9 points on 52.2 percent shooting from the field, 12.2 assists, 6.3 rebounds and 1.7 steals.
Magic’s mark of 23.9 points per game was the highest of his career. This scoring output can be accredited to the fact that then-head coach Pat Riley asked Johnson to take on more of a leadership role on offense. The Lakers would go on to claim a league-high 65 wins that season, and Magic earned MVP honors:
6. Skyhook in ’87 Finals
For our next great moment from Magic Johnson’s tenure with the Lakers, we’ll take a trip back to Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals.
The Lakers were leading their series against the Celtics by a count of two games to one. With seven seconds remaining and Boston leading by one point, Magic knocked down a running hook shot that has since become iconic.
Johnson took the inbounds pass from Michael Cooper, then proceeded to drop a “junior, junior” skyhook over Kevin McHale that put the Lakers ahead for good:
5. 1992 All-Star Game performance
Though he had just announced his retirement following a positive test for HIV, Magic Johnson was allowed to play in the 1992 All-Star Game and was named a starter.
Johnson had great individual battles with Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan throughout the game, and he came alive in the fourth quarter. Magic wanted to prove to fans that he could still play, despite the fact that he was HIV positive. He scored a game-high 25 points and dished out nine assists, shooting 75 percent from the field, 100 percent from beyond the arc and 100 percent from the free-throw line.
It was … magical:
4. The comeback
Five years removed from playing his last basketball game, Magic decided to make a return to the NBA. In his first game back with the Lakers, he had 19 points and 10 assists in a victory over the Golden State Warriors.
Even at 36 years of age, Magic was still a solid player. In his 32 games played during the 1995-96 season, he averaged 14.6 points on 46.6 percent shooting to go along with 6.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds per game.
3. The Dream Team
The Dream Team brought a worldwide host of new fans to the NBA. To many, it was the greatest team ever assembled, consisting of legends like Michael Jordan, Larry Bird, David Robinson, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and, of course, Magic Johnson.
Despite the fact that he was already retired, Magic served as a captain for this legendary squad, alongside Larry Bird. It was a special time, as the two legends were nearing the ends of their careers. The torch from the ’80s was being passed to the ’90s:
2. Back-to-back titles in 1987 and 1988
Thanks in large part to the efforts of Magic Johnson, the Lakers became the first team since Bill Russell’s Celtics to win back-to-back championships. Interestingly, Los Angeles had actually lived up to head coach Pat Riley’s prediction following the 1987 Finals, when he “guaranteed” that the Lakers would win again the following season:
“To be a part of history… nobody has done it in 19 or 20 years, it’s unbelievable,” Johnson said of winning back-to-back titles with the Lakers. “We’ve finally got our part of history, where we can go down as one of the best teams to ever play in the NBA.”
Ironically enough, the next four teams to win championships (Pistons, Bulls, Rockets, Bulls) all won at least two titles in a row.
1. Rookie performance in Game 6 of 1980 Finals
For our No. 1 spot on this list, we’ll go back to Magic Johnson’s epic performance in Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals.
Kareem was injured in Game 5, leaving the dominant big man unavailable for the Lakers’ Game 6 matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers. As a result, a young Magic was slotted in at center.
Playing out of position and undersized, Johnson put on an outstanding show. Simply put, it was one of the greatest stat lines of all time. He scored a whopping 42 points on 60.9 percent shooting (14-of-14 from the charity stripe) while also notching 15 rebounds, seven assists and three steals.
The day before, Larry Bird had won Rookie of the Year honors. Magic wanted to prove a point, perhaps?
After dispatching the Sixers in Game 6, Magic was given Finals MVP:
This set the tone for an incredible NBA career.