A Champion is Born: The Early Years of Earvin “Magic” Johnson

At 49 years old, Magic Johnson’s accomplishments stretch as far and wide as the many basketball courts he has conquered in his career. From transforming the Los Angeles Lakers into a championship team, to living with HIV, to launching a multi-million dollar business empire, Johnson has overcome numerous stereotypes in creating his own multi-faceted success.

Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Jr. was born in 1959 in Lansing, Michigan to parents Christine, a school custodian, and Earvin Johnson, Sr., who worked at a General Motors plant. Johnson was the fourth of seven children, but maintained a close relationship with his parents. In fact, as basketball quickly took a hold of his young life, it was Johnson Sr. who would coach his son and provide him with advice on how to be a top-scorer – in the game, and in life.

At Everett High School, Johnson’s reputation on the court began to take off. It was there that a Lansing sports reporter first gave Johnson the nickname of “Magic,” after a 36-point, 18-rebound, and 16-assist performance. Johnson would later take his high school team to the 1977 state championships, and win.

Johnson decided to stay close to home for university, attending Michigan State. There, he played for the Spartans, leading them to their first-ever NCAA title. In that game, Johnson scored 24 points and was chosen Most Valuable Player.

In 1979, just two years before Johnson was supposed to graduate, something happened to him that would forever change his life. Johnson was selected first in the 1979 NBA draft by the Los Angeles Lakers. It was an opportunity he could not turn down.

Johnson promptly moved to Southern California and embarked on a career of championship after championship. He led the Lakers to their first NBA championship in eight years – the first of five – and earned three NBA Finals MVP awards.

However, in November 1991, following a routine physical examination for an insurance policy, Johnson made a discovery that would bring his career to a crashing halt. He learned he had HIV, and promptly retired from basketball.

Almost overnight, Johnson was transformed from a basketball superstar into a spokesperson for AIDS awareness. He founded the Magic Johnson Foundation for HIV/AIDS education, and wrote the book, “What You Can Do To Prevent AIDS.”

Still, Johnson’s celebrity in the game could not be overlooked, and in 1992, he was voted back into the NBA All-Star game. After scoring 25 points in 29 minutes, Johnson was named the game’s MVP. He also made the 1992 Olympic team, and brought home the Gold medal.

In the next few years that followed, Johnson would announce his retirement from basketball another two times. He continued to have health concerns over playing professionally and dealing with the consequences of HIV. Some of his teammates shared those concerns, and it showed on the court. Finally, Johnson left the game for good in 1996, and decided to turn his attention to other ventures.

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