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Category: Magic Johnson

L.A.'s greatest sports moments No. 2: Magic's junior sky hook


We asked you to send in your picks for the greatest sports moments in L.A. history, and 1,181 ballots later we are unveiling the top 20 vote-getters. Each weekday we will unveil a new moment until we finally reach No. 1.

No. 2: Magic's junior sky hook (32 first-place votes, 3,788 points)

Magic Johnson firmly established himself as the Lakers’ offensive leader in the 1986-87 season, so it was appropriate that he made the biggest shot of that championship year.

Coach Pat Riley decided that season that Magic would be the Lakers’ No. 1 option on offense instead of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer but also 39 years old at the time.

Magic’s scoring average increased five points from the previous season to a career-high 23.9 a game. He also led the NBA in assists, helped the Lakers compile a league-best 65-17 record and won his first most valuable player award.

The Lakers rolled to the NBA Finals, winning 11 of 12 playoff games to set up another matchup with the Boston Celtics. After the Lakers’ fast-break offense led to two routs at the Forum, there was considerable talk of a sweep.

But the defending champion Celtics rallied for a Game 3 win in Boston and built a 16-point lead in the third quarter of Game 4. While most of his teammates struggled, Magic kept the Lakers in the game, scoring 27 points through three quarters and helping them enter the final 12 minutes down by only seven.

The fourth quarter was a classic. The Lakers tied the score midway through the period, fell behind by eight with 3 1/2 minutes left, then scored nine in a row to take a one-point lead with 29 seconds left. Larry Bird’s three-point basket with 12 seconds left put the Celtics ahead by two.

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Did Magic Johnson play high school ball with WWE's The Undertaker?


BASKETBALL URBAN LEGEND: Magic Johnson played high school basketball with WWE's The Undertaker.

A popular game to play with celebrities is to look at them "Before They Were Famous," particularly when they were younger (heck, MTV recently had a show whose entire purpose was simply to see what celebrities were like "When They Were 17"). It is especially fascinating when you discover that two different celebrities crossed paths when they were younger, like learning that Jon Hamm taught The Office's Ellie Kemper acting in high school or that NFL superstar Randy Moss was high school football teammates with veteran NBA point guard Jason Williams. In fact, in this very column, I discussed the very popular urban legend that Don Drysdale and Robert Redford were high school baseball teammates (click here to see if they actually did play together). Thus, it comes as no surprise to find out that people were quite fascinated with a piece of trivia that has been making the rounds on the internet for the last few years (to the point where a number of readers have suggested it to me to use in this column) that Earvin "Magic" Johnson, legendary star of the Los Angeles Lakers played high school basketball with Mark "The Undertaker" Calaway, famed wrestling star of WWE.

Is is true?

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Watch the Magic Johnson retirement news conference [Video]


It seems impossible, but 20 years ago today Magic Johnson retired from the Lakers while announcing he was HIV positive.

"Because of the HIV virus that I have attained, I will have to retire from the Lakers today," Johnson said in the news conference, which you can watch above.

Johnson went on to say, "I just want to make it clear, first of all, that I do not have the AIDS disease."

It was a surreal moment few people will ever forget. At the time, you didn't know how long Johnson would live.

A few years later, of course, he returned to the Lakers for a season. He also was a member of the original dream team.

Today, he is an entrepreneur and considered by many to be the greatest Laker of all time.


Magic Johnson retains optimism

Twenty years later, Johnson is living proof

Magic Johnson wishes he hadn't retired so early

-- Houston Mitchell


Greatest sports figures in L.A. history No. 2: Magic Johnson


Continuing our countdown of the 20 greatest figures in L.A. sports history, as chosen in voting by our online readers, with No. 2, Magic Johnson.

No. 2 Magic Johnson (230 first-place votes, 8,389 points)

When Magic Johnson sold his 4.5% share of the Lakers in October of 2010, he called it a "bittersweet business decision."

Now free to pursue another sports franchise, maybe even help bring an NFL team back to Los Angeles, Johnson wanted to make one thing clear.

"I am and will always be," he said, "a Laker for life."

Perhaps the greatest Laker ever. At the very least, the most popular Laker ever.

For few people have had more impact on the Lakers and the NBA than Earvin "Magic" Johnson, who along with the Boston Celtics' Larry Bird, is widely credited with reviving the league and setting the stage for Michael Jordan to take the game to unprecedented heights.

Not that Johnson didn't scale some pretty big mountains himself.

Using his 6-foot-9 frame and superior passing skills, Johnson directed the Lakers' "Showtime" era that dominated the NBA in the 1980s. From his rookie season in 1979-80 to his final full season (1990-91), Johnson helped the Lakers win five NBA championships and nine conference titles. The Lakers won at least 54 games in each season in that span.

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Magic Johnson on ownership of the Dodgers and an NFL team

Magic Johnson, the Lakers' Hall of Famer and an entrepreneur, sat down with Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Plaschke for a one-on-one conversation about things past and present.

Without further adieu, take a listen to what the legendary playmaker had to say about the Dodgers' current ownership situation (above) and about his interest in an NFL team playing in Los Angeles (below).

Magic's biggest prediction? An NFL team for L.A. within two years. And he'd be interested in owning a piece of the Dodgers.

-- Dan Loumena

Take notice, LeBron: Magic Johnson says he never would have joined forces with Larry Bird

In an interview with Barry Rothbard of Bloomberg News, Lakers icon Magic Johnson said he never would have joined with Larry Bird to win a championship the way LeBron James is teaming with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh.

Fabforum "We didn’t think about it 'cause that’s not what we were about,” Johnson said. “From college, I was trying to figure out how to beat Larry Bird."

Bird and Johnson are credited by many with causing a surge in interest in the NBA that has lasted to this day. They faced each other in the NBA Finals three times and rekindled the classic Lakers-Celtics rivalry.

Johnson also said James could become a top businessman one day, but only on one condition. 

“I think he will be, one day, a great businessman,” Johnson said. “The first order of business for LeBron is to win championships. If you build your brand on the court, then that will take care of the off-the-court brand.”

-- Houston Mitchell

Photo: Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. Credit: Los Angeles Times.

The 10 greatest L.A. Lakers of all time -- No. 1: Magic Johnson

Concluding our countdown of the 10 greatest L.A. Lakers of all time, as chosen by our readers.

No. 1: Magic Johnson (3,594 first-place votes, 69,156 points)

Fabforum Magic Johnson was selected first overall in the 1979 NBA Draft by the Lakers. The Lakers won the NBA title, and Johnson was named NBA Finals Most Valuable Player in his rookie season. He won four more titles with the Lakers during the 1980s.

Johnson's career achievements include three NBA MVP awards, 12 All-Star games, and 10 All-NBA first- and second-team awards. He is the NBA's all-time leader in assists per game, with an average of 11.2, and is probably the most popular Laker of all time.

On the all-time Lakers list, Johnson ranks fifth in games (906), eighth in field-goal percentage (52%), sixth in free-throw percentage (84.8%), third in rebounds (6,559), first in assists (10,141), first in steals (1,724), fifth in points (17,707), eighth in points per game (19.5) and first in assists per game (11.2).

-- Houston Mitchell


No. 10: Jerry Buss

No. 9: Shaquille O'Neal

No. 8: Wilt Chamberlain

No. 7: Chick Hearn

No. 6: James Worthy

No. 5: Elgin Baylor

No. 4: Kobe Bryant

No. 3: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

No. 2: Jerry West

Photo: Magic Johnson faces Michael Jordan in the 1991 NBA Finals. Credit: Los Angeles Times

Magic-Bird, Lakers-Celtics rivalry, part 2

Nbafinals85 Magic Johnson and Larry Bird teamed up with reporter Jackie MacMullan for a new book, "When the Game Was Ours."

One passage talks about the 1985 NBA Finals when the Lakers beat the Boston Celtics for the title in Game 6, after having lost to them in the Finals eight previous times, including in 1984. It was a particularly sweet win for the Lakers and Magic Johnson because they won the title in the Boston Garden.

Here's an excerpt:

The aura of [Red] Auerbach's cigars, the booby-trapped parquet, and the plethora of championship banners was not quite so daunting the second time around. [Lakers Coach Pat] Riley ordered high-powered fans to cool off the [Boston Garden] locker room in case another heat wave settled into the visitor's area....

"Magic's purpose was written all over his face in Game 6," Riley said. "It was 'Atone for 1984.' It was life or death for him."...

[After winning the title] In the cluttered visitors' locker room, the Lakers gathered in a circle and chanted "LA! LA!" in unison. Their owner, Jerry Buss, accepted the championship trophy from David Stern and declared, "This has removed the most odious sentence in the English language. It can never again be said the Lakers have not beaten the Celtics."

--Barry Stavro

Photo: Magic Johnson scores over Larry Bird and Kevin McHale in the 1985 NBA Finals. Photo credit: Los Angeles Times.

Magic Johnson and Larry Bird on the Lakers-Celtics rivalry

Magic-larry-320wi Magic Johnson
and Larry Bird, former rivals turned friends, collaborated with basketball reporter Jackie MacMullan and wrote a book, published this week, titled "When the Game was Ours."

Of all the Lakers-Celtics NBA Finals, one of the most legendary, and for Lakers' fans one of the most bitter, was in 1984 when the Lakers outplayed the Celtics in the first four games, but blew two of them, and ultimately lost the seventh game and the championship at the Boston Garden.

That spring, Celtics fans tried to intimidate the Lakers when they flew into Boston. Back then, NBA teams flew on commercial flights, not charter planes:

When the Lakers landed at Logan Airport ... they waited nearly an hour for their bags, emblazoned with the purple-and-gold Lakers emblem. When the luggage finally appeared on the conveyor belt, many of them were unzipped. Nothing was missing, according to Magic, "but the message was clear. It was just Boston's way of letting us know we shouldn't get comfortable here."

... [After getting hounded by Celtics fans at the airport, Johnson] was relieved to finally reach the team bus -- until he noticed the driver was wearing a Celtics shirt. When he stepped up to the counter at the team hotel to check in, the manager who assisted him also proudly wore Celtics colors.

"Even the curtains in my room were green," Magic said.


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Lakers parade: The party continues


From the Coliseum:

Kobe Bryant leaped onto the Lakers' court that stood as the stage for their NBA Championship celebration. Derek Fisher held the 2009 championship trophy aloft, which drew a loud ovation. As all the Lakers walked onto the court, waving to fans, the crowd erupted.

The Lakers assistant coaches were introduced. First it was assistant Jim Cleamons, then Frank Hamblen and then Kurt Rambis, who was given a loud ovation. Next up was Brian Shaw, who was introduced as a Laker who was on the three NBA titles earlier this decade, and he was given a loud ovation as well.

When Magic Johnson was introduced, the fans began to chant "Magic. Magic. Magic." That forced Johnson to come out and take a bow.

-- Broderick Turner

Photo: Kobe Bryant, center, along with his family and Los Angeles mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, left, wave to fans while riding on top of a double-decker bus during the Lakers' championship parade on Wednesday. Credit: Mark Boster/ Los Angeles Times

Ted Green: How does Kobe Bryant rank among NBA greats?

Magic West logo Jordan

Ring No. 4 for Kobe Bryant has inevitably set off a small firestorm of debate and spirited conversation about where the Lakers' star falls in the pantheon of NBA greats. For some odd reason, in 35 years of covering the league, I have never before posted my own best-ever list, leaving it to others with less to do. So by popular demand, or just because, here it is, the top 10 NBA greats ever, broken into two groups, pre- and post- Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.

Modern NBA (Post Magic-Bird)

1. Michael Jordan. Julius Erving may have been The Doctor, but it was MJ who operated with the skill and precision of a preternaturally gifted surgeon. The argument, however passionate, that Kobe is the crazier baller with the madder skills is a good one, and not wrong, either, but it doesn't quite hold up against Michael's extraordinary body of work. Six MVP awards, six NBA Finals MVP awards, six championships, undefeated in the NBA Finals and five scoring titles.

Until Kobe gets to seven, if he does, his Airness is still the measuring stick against whom everyone else will and should be compared.  The fact that We Liked Mike but don't always know how to feel about the more polarizing Kobe did not in any way enter into this decision.

2. Magic Johnson. The greatest team player. More impact on each 48-minute contest, possession to possession, than anyone who ever lived, and maybe the greatest teammate, too. Five titles, four Finals MVP awards, nine trips to the Finals, and all he did in his spare time was revolutionize the point guard position and save the NBA from itself.

3. Kobe Bryant. If his friend Shaq won't mind the ripoff here, the MTE, Most Talented Ever. And now his own extensive resume is looking more polished, with his fourth ring, first Finals MVP (a legit and important award) and finally a championship to call his very own.

4. Larry Bird. Freakiest white dude who ever laced 'em up. Three titles, three Finals MVP awards, might have won five himself if Magic hadn't been in his way. And by the way, his performances winning those three-point contests during All-Star weekend proved that big guys could shoot like that ... or at least Larry Legend could.

5 (tie). Tim Duncan. Karl Malone scored more points and had bigger muscles, Charles Barkley was more of an uber athlete and rebound machine, but no power forward has ever played with the consistency and precision of a metronome like Duncan has.  His four rings, three Finals MVPs and two regular-season MVPs speak to the profound respect the Big Fundamental enjoyed from both the media and his peers.

5 (tie). Shaquille O'Neal. Not the MDE. That was Wilt. But the greatest force of nature since hurricanes and tidal waves. The Daddy's four titles and three Finals MVP awards make Shaq, Kobe and Duncan the winningest among all active NBA players.

Honorable Mention:Lebron James, Hakeem Olajuwon, David Robinson, Karl Malone, Charles Barkley.

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