Earvin “Magic” Johnson helped popularize (and save) the NBA in the ’80s, won three MVPs and five championships for the “Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers, and became one of the most celebrated figures in hoops history. And while his impact enabled generations of ballers to earn millions (his greatest assist), how much did he earn as a player? Let’s look back on his Lakers contracts.
After selecting the 6-foot-9 point guard out of Michigan State with the number one pick in the 1979 NBA Draft, the Lakers started Johnson with a five-year deal worth $460,000 per year, according to Spotrac.
In 1981, the 21-year old signed an unprecedented, strictly-cash 25-year, $25 million deal — the longest and richest sports contract to that point, topping the 10-year, $24 million deal Dave Winfield had just inked with the New York Yankees.
When Magic Johnson’s second contract kicked in (1984), he became the third NBA player to receive more than $1 million annually, joining his teammate, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Moses Malone of the Houston Rockets. To this day, it remains one of the most famous and unique athlete contracts of all-time—and an early display of a (new) owner displaying immense loyalty to a star player.
“How much would he get right now [in free agency]?” Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss said about the deal. “A million and a half? How much next year? Two million? Somewhere in there, I’m sure.”
When asked if the deal was as a publicity stunt meant to best Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, Buss—who had purchased the Lakers in 1979—proudly boasted, “It sure is.”
As league revenues and salaries increased, Johnson was soon underpaid. In 1992, when he was attempting a comeback after his HIV diagnosis, Buss offered him $14.6 million per season through 1994-95, rewarding Johnson with the highest single-season salary in team sports. (At the time, the league’s salary cap was in the $14-15 million range.) Johnson’s forced re-retirement voided the deal, but Buss insisted he was paid.
Towards the end of the 1993-94 campaign, Buss and GM Jerry West convinced Johnson to give coaching a brief whirl (it did not go well). He was still owed his $14.6 million as a player through 1995, so his agent, Lon Rosen, negotiated a separate coaching contract without compensation.
Johnson resigned after the season (lasting 16 games), and Buss agreed to sell him a 4.5% share of the team for $10 million. Johnson held the stake until 2010 when he sold it for an estimated $50 to $60 million.
In 1996, Johnson made a short-lived comeback as a player, signing as a free agent on Jan. 29. He retired for the last time on May 29.
Cumulatively, Johnson made about $24 million (not adjusted for inflation) during his playing career, and nearly $40 million counting the contract that paid him through 2009. He was also speculated to have been paid around $10 million per year during his tenure as Lakers President of Basketball Operations from 2017-19.
Of course, Magic’s off-the-court career has been far more lucrative, as he’s amassed hundreds of millions from various business ventures.