Skip to main content
Original Issue

The Vault

Every SI Story ...Every SI Photo ... Ever SI.COM/VAULT

EXCERPT | Nov. 19,1979

Magical inL.A.

NBA fans had neverseen the likes of this rookie

Less than a monthinto his rookie season, No. 1 draft pick Magic Johnson had transformed theLakers. Bruce Newman reported from Los Angeles.

A few yearsago—even last season—it wouldn't have been unusual to see a fan taking a snoozeat courtside during a Los Angeles Lakers game in The Forum, where the chillyreserve of the crowds usually runs about 10° below body temperature. Ah, butthat is the past. Things are warming up now, and by last week the long nightsof ennui and frustration were but a grim and distant memory at theonce-again-Fabulous Forum, where the Lakers were clearly enjoying life in thefast-break lane. The new-look Lakers had replaced the no-look, no-luck,old-look Lakers, and nowhere was the change more brightly apparent than in thebeaming kisser of Earvin (Magic) Johnson Jr.

Johnson was nevermore typically Magic than in last Friday's 126--122 overtime victory overDenver. He scored 31 points, passed for eight assists and grabbed six rebounds.More than that, he and Norm Nixon, L.A.'s other young guard, cranked up thefast-break game in the second half. "When we started running, my confidencestarted to rise," said Magic. "I knew it was time to deal on somepeople. When we're rolling and the break is going, I guess it looks like I amperforming magic out there. Some nights I think I can do anything." Hestopped for a moment and his soft brown eyes widened. "You really have tolove the game to play that way, though," he said. "You can't be afraidto let your emotions out in front of 13,000 people."

Johnson, then 20,was named Finals MVP as the Lakers beat the 76ers to win the 1980 title for thefirst of his five NBA championships.

Check outSI.COM/BONUS | Breaking News | Real-time Scores | Daily Analysis

NFL

MLB

NBA

NHL

CollegeFootball

Editor'sChoice

ISIAH SPEAKS!

SI's Ian Thomsenspoke to Isiah Thomas about the new book When the Game Was Ours, in which MagicJohnson attacks Thomas's character and alleges that Thomas, after Johnson's HIVdiagnosis in 1991, raised questions about his sexuality:

When he heard thecriticisms from his former friend, Thomas (left) had had enough. "I'mreally hurt, and I really feel taken advantage of for all these years,"Thomas said. "I'm totally blindsided by this. Every time I've seen Magic,he has been friendly with me. Whenever he came to a Knicks game he, Herb[Williams] and I would go out to dinner in New York. I just didn't know he feltthis way."

MOST POPULAR

PETER KING'S

Monday MorningQuarterback

Redskins justdelaying the inevitable with coach Jim Zorn

SI PHOTOS

Derek JeterThrough the Years

The Yankees'captain has also had an eventful life off the field

ANDY STAPLES'S

College FootballPower Rankings

Julio Jones andthe Tide looking less and less impressive

ON THE GO

twitter

Tweet Tweet

Follow SI.comwriters, including Peter King, Don Banks, Seth Davis, Jon Heyman and StewartMandel, every day on Twitter. Plus get news, features and photo galleries atSI_24/7

SI Mobile

Get the latestnews, live scores, photos and stories from SI.com writers, plus personalizeyour page with your favorite teams.

Online Cover Gallery

This Week in SI

1955

SI called Maryland's Bob Pellegrini "about the bestcenter in the college game." He majored in P.E., took a class calledCourtship and Marriage, and soon began a nine-year NFL career.

1980

In his first marathon Alberto Salazar upset BillRodgers, the four-time winner of New York, who had vowed that "no rookie isgoing to beat me." Salazar finished in a record 2:09:40.

1993

Only two players have hit a walk-off homer to win aWorld Series. The second was Joe Carter, whose three-run shot beat the Philliesand gave Toronto its second straight championship.

GALLERIES

CC Sabathia World Series Preview

Tom Brady NFL in London

Stephen Curry NBA Rookies

PHOTO

Photograph by MANNY MILLAN

ASCENDANT Johnson averaged 18.0 points, 7.3 assists and 7.7 rebounds in 1979--80, though he was edged by the Celtics' Larry Bird in the Rookie of the Year voting.

PHOTO

HY PESKIN (PELLEGRINI)

PHOTO

JERRY COOKE (SALAZAR)

PHOTO

JOHN IACONO (CARTER)

PHOTO

JOHN BIEVER (THOMAS)

PHOTO

JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (CURRY)

PHOTO

CHUCK SOLOMON (SABATHIA)

PHOTO

PAUL CHILDS/ACTION IMAGES/ZUMAPRESS.COM (BRADY)

PHOTO

BOB ROSATO (JONES)

PHOTO

NBC (JETER)

PHOTO

DAVID BERGMAN (ZORN)

PHOTO