CORPUS CHRISTI — Earvin Johnson has one of the simplest, yet most recognizable nicknames anywhere in sports.
With a resume that rivals that of anyone to ever play the sport of basketball and a personality and smile as big as the NBA itself, Johnson is known simply as Magic.
Johnson, a winner of five NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers, was the featured speaker at this year’s STARS Scholarship Fundraiser at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi.
Johnson spoke about the importance of hard work and never giving up on dreams, but he also shared the story of how as a young man, he earned the nickname 'Magic,' a name which follows him even today as he works as president of basketball operations for the Los Angeles Lakers.
As a young man from a blue-collar family in Lansing, Mich., Johnson was always blessed with the ability to play basketball. His talents revealed themselves at a very early age, way before his reached high school.
“I started off in high school after I won every championship… second grade, third grade, fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, seventh grade, eighth grade and ninth grade… I won them all,” Johnson said. “So, now I’m headed to a high school that wasn't known for basketball. They had come in last place for the last seven or eight years. I had to figure out how I was going to turn this losing into winning.”
Before he even began attending Everett High School in Lansing, Johnson took the initiative of getting a list of every player who made up the school’s basketball program. In the summer before his sophomore year, he began holding summer practices.
“Coached asked what I wanted a list of players and I said because, we’re going to start practicing this summer before we even get into high school,” Johnson recalled telling his coach. “I said, ‘I’m not coming to this school to lose.’”
His planned — all the hard work and dedication — worked. Everett was picked to finish that season in last, but the team began the season with an 8-0 record leading up to the team’s biggest test of the young season. Everett had everyone attention that night, and Johnson delivered. He led his team to a 30-point victory by scoring 38 points with 20 rebounds and 19 assists. It was his first triple-double, a gem of a game in basketball.
Afterward, a sportswriter working for the Lansing State Journal came up to the bright-eyed 15-year-old.
“This guy walks in and says, ‘Man, that was an awesome game! I got to give you a nickname,’” Johnson recalled. “He said, ‘somebody is already called Doctor J and Big E was already taken.’ And because those two nicknamed were already taken, he said, ‘I’m going to call you Magic.’”
“At 15, you giggle,” Johnson said. “It’s not really going to stick, right? He fooled me. The next day in the paper, it says ‘Erving Magic Johnson leads Everett High School.'"
Johnson guided Everett to the Michigan state high school playoffs that year and in his junior year before winning a state championship as a senior.
“Now, 40 years later, they’re still calling me Magic,” he said.