Magic Johnson is perhaps one of the most recognisable names in basketball – but it’s not actually the star’s real name. Christened Earvin Johnson, the nickname ‘Magic’ was given to the basketball star by a journalist writing for the Lansing State Journal. As a high-school basketball player for Everett High School, he recorded a triple-double score consisting of 36 points, 18 rebounds and 16 assists. The impressed journalist, Fred Stabley Junior, gave him the nickname despite protestations by his religious mother that the moniker was sacreligious.
His early years were not easy; he was bussed to a predominantly white high school during the era of desegregation and experienced racist attacks. Rocks were thrown at the bus that he travelled on and teammates on the basketball court ignored him.
He said in his autobiography of the time that, “As I look back on it today, I see the whole picture very differently. It’s true that I hated missing out on Sexton. And the first few months, I was miserable at Everett. But being bused to Everett turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me. It got me out of my own little world and taught me how to understand white people, how to communicate and deal with them.”
In addition to this, Johnson had to deal with the death of his close friend and fellow basketball player Reggie Chastine in a car accident when the pair were both teenagers. He went on to credit much of his drive and success to his friend’s encouragement.
A stellar college and professional career in basketball helped to propel Johnson to the top of his game, but it is perhaps his actions off the court which have earned him the most respect. In 1991, Johnson was diagnosed with HIV, a disease which held a great deal of stigma at the time. Few men diagnosed with the disease were heterosexual, and Johnson helped to tackle the stigma of being HIV positive in a highly masculine and sometimes homophobic environment. He has earned much praise over the years for his openness and campaigning about issues around living with HIV/AIDs.
Just under a year ago, Johnson replaced Jim Buss as President of Basketball Operations for the Los Angeles Lakers, the only team in the NBA he has ever played for. His General Manager Rob Pelinka has spoken out about their first year in the business together.
Speaking to Spectrum SportsNet he said: “Magic’s an early workout person and he gets inspired. He tells legendary stories about going jogging sometimes when it’s still dark and the stars are out, and that’s when he gets his inspiration on the future of the Lakers and what we should do as a front office.
“Literally my day with him often starts at five in the morning, which I don’t mind. It’s interesting, a lot of people say how many times you and Magic talk throughout a day. It’s kind of non-stop. Obviously if he’s in the office we’re meeting with one another, going over things. If one of us is traveling we probably talk on the phone at least five times a day.”
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