June 12, 1984. The final buzzer sounds, and Boston Celtics fans storm the court after a 111-102 win against the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Magic Johnson heads to the locker room, head down, knowing full well this loss was on him.
It wasn’t just his two turnovers to Dennis Johnson in the final two minutes of Game 7. There were countless moments all series where Magic came up short. His late turnover to Robert Parish in the final five seconds of Game 4, and his two missed free throws in overtime of the same game before Larry Bird nailed the game winner in his face. Losing sight of the time and running out the clock instead of getting up a shot in the waning moments of Game 2.
This was a Lakers loss, but for Magic, it was bigger than that. It was directly on him; it was his fault. Magic choked.
He knew it and accepted it, admitting, “I just didn’t perform. We had a chance at the end, and I turned it over after we played so well to come back.”
Magic took responsibility for the loss, something he had never fully done at that point in his career. He faced the loss, the “Tragic” Johnson jokes, and everything that came with the 1984 Finals defeat, and it made him a stronger player. It made him the greatest point guard in the history of the NBA.
5 championship rings. 3 Finals MVPs. 3 regular season MVPs. Magic has all the accolades and statistics to back up his stance as the greatest “one” of all time. He averaged 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 11.2 assists per game throughout his career while shooting an efficient 52% from the field. Magic also holds the all-time most assists and assists per game in the playoffs.
Magic has the trophy closet and the numbers to be an all time great. The way he changed the game of basketball, and the NBA, makes him the greatest to ever do it at the point guard position.
Magic shifted the standard for the point guard position, making way for players like LeBron James to start at that spot. Standing at 6’9 with the body of a forward, Magic wowed spectators with his phenomenal passing skills, finding players who didn’t even know they were open. He seemed to have every pass imaginable in his bag of tricks. His height allowed him to see over opposing teams and pick them apart.
Magic was a one-of-a-kind guy on and off the floor. Through all the stressful losses, he maintained a fun-loving nature and enthusiasm, carrying himself in a way that made him easy to love as a fun. Despite the greatness of his co-star Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic was the leader of the Showtime Lakers. James Worthy stated, “This was Magic’s team, and everyone knew that…Magic was born a leader.”
The 12-time All-Star was known for his all-around game and versatility. In the NBA Finals of his rookie season, Magic started at the center position in the series-clinching win, putting up 42 points and 15 rebounds.
Not only did Magic change the way we look at point guards today, but he also changed the NBA, with his career coming at just the right time to save the reeling league. The NBA was floundering, losing money, looking as though it was about to fail. But Magic Johnson, along with his rival Larry Bird, gave the NBA a story, a story that would one day become arguably the greatest NBA rivalry of all time. They kept the NBA on their feet.
The rivalry with Bird kept Magic from winning more rings. Not only Bird, however, as the 80s was filled with great teams and tough competition for Magic. Isiah Thomas and the Bad Boy Pistons, Julius Erving and the Sixers, the up-and-coming Chicago Bulls. Nothing came easy for Magic Johnson, winning an astounding five championships and losing four in one of the toughest eras in the NBA.
While Stephen Curry changed the game in the 21st century with a stunning sharpshooting ability that pushed the game to the three-point line, and while Curry is the second greatest point guard all-time even as he is not the best passer or defender of his era, the Magic Johnson trophy closet makes the Lansing product unique. The greatest point guard of all time appeared in 9 NBA Finals in a 13 year career.
Since he became the first rookie to win the Finals MVP award in 1980, everyone knew Magic was destined for greatness. He didn’t look like a point guard by any means, but he played like a damn good one, the greatest “one” of all time.