Released by Apple TV+ on April 22, 2022, the 4-part documentary series they call me magic takes a comprehensive look at the enduring legacy of Earvin “Magic” Johnson, one of the most talented and charismatic basketball superstars who ever lived. The series chronicles Magic’s time in Lansing, Michigan before he led the Los Angeles Lakers to multiple championships in the 1980s, and provides an insight into the personal and professional ups and downs he faced during his 12-year NBA career was faced.
From his nickname to his massive contract deal to his relationship with Isaiah Thomas and his post-career business ventures, plenty of fascinating facts and tidbits have been revealed they call me magic.
The name magic
One of the first details shared in the docuseries is how and where Earvin Johnson got his nickname “Magic.” Director Rick Famuyiwa interviews Lansing sportscaster Fred Stabley Jr., who began covering Johnson’s very first game while playing for Michigan’s Everett High School local basketball team.
After dropping 36 points, catching 18 rebounds and giving 16 assists in his high school debut, Stabley Jr. claimed Johnson did things on the court he’d never seen before. As such, he told Johnson he should be nicknamed “Magic.” Johnson initially dismissed the nickname as silly, and soon realized that “magic” spread like wildfire and eventually became one of the biggest branding tools in pro sports.
Chicago vs Los Angeles
Another intriguing tidbit revealed in the awesome Apple TV+ documentary is how the 1979-80 NBA draft order worked. Nowadays, lottery balls are chosen at random. But in Magic’s day, a simple coin toss determined which team, one from the Eastern Conference and one from the Western Conference, would get the first pick.
After getting the first pick from the Utah Jazz, the Lakers had to flip a coin with the Chicago Bulls to get the first draft pick. That means Magic Johnson had a 50 percent chance of ending up in Chicago rather than Los Angeles, where he’s now an all-time sports icon. The idea that Magic and Michael Jordan could possibly have played together for the Chicago Bulls is overwhelming.
NBA Finals MVP as a rookie
While many sports fans know that Magic led the Lakers to an NBA title in his first year with the team in 1980, many don’t know or remember the epic Game 6 performance he put on. After team captain Kareem Abdul-Jabbar left the game with an injury, Magic switched positions from point guard to center, where he registered in an all-time great stat line.
After 42 points, 15 rebounds and 7 assists at center, Magic was eventually named the first-ever rookie to win the NBA Finals MVP award. Four decades later, Magic Johnson remains the only rookie to receive such an honor.
Realizing that Magic was a true superstar, Lakers owner Jerry Buss wanted to keep the player as a Laker for life. In an unprecedented deal, Buss gave Johnson an unthinkable 25-year, $25 million contract that would earn him $1 million per season. Players in all sports rarely see 10-year contracts, and very few professional athletes ever play 25 years, if ever.
At the time, the long-term contract made Magic the highest-paid athlete in sports history, making Magic the enduring face of the Lakers and a permanent fixture of Los Angeles for generations to come.
Demanded a trade that fired the head coach
After Magic landed his 25-year mega contract, the docuseries revealed just how much he fell out of favor with fans and teammates alike. Whether they were jealous or felt Magic didn’t deserve such a rich deal, Magic started getting booed by its own fans on the LA Forums.
Things took a turn for the worse when Magic and Lakers head coach Paul Westhead began falling out over the team’s direction, leading Magic to seek a trade with another franchise. While NBA fans remember the trade request at the time, they probably didn’t know that Buss stepped in and fired Westhead instead of trading Magic. The facts are disputed winning timewhich does several things wrong.
Magic & Zeke were friendly before Rival
While most basketball fans and Magic devotees are aware of his longtime rival with Larry Bird, it’s his complex relationship with Detroit Pistons point guard Isaiah “Zeke” Thomas that really provided new information. By 1988, Magic and Zeke were bitter rivals, getting into physical altercations on the court, including Magic elbowing Zeke in the face in the finals.
While that was public at the time, it was less so Magic and Zeke’s close friendship four years before they became rivals on the court. After Magic lost the NBA title to rival Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics in 1984, it was Zeke who comforted Magic by sitting with him in a hotel room all night, comforting Magic while he sobbed uncontrollably. Magic & Zeke trained together during the off-season until a falling out in 1988.
Cold Wedding Feet
After the first two episodes of they call me magic, the docuseries moves into Magic’s personal life off the court. This includes his ongoing relationship with his future wife Cookie, with a surprising number of canceled Magic wedding dates calling his loyalty into question.
Magic was so cold-footed at the prospect of marriage that he put it off several times so he could continue his celebrity lifestyle as a bachelor in Los Angeles while Cookie stayed in Michigan. Claiming that marriage would put too much pressure on him, Magic ended his first engagement to Cookie while they were planning their wedding. After his father finally convinced him to marry Cookie, she was afraid he wouldn’t show up for their wedding anniversary in 1991.
Philanthropy and activism in the community
The final episode of the docuseries examines Magic’s laundry list of post-career business ventures and philanthropic activism in South Central Los Angeles. While many are familiar with the Magic Johnson Movie Theater chain he opened and the gyms he invested in, few know how Magic brokered peace between the rival Blood and Crip gangs.
Magic and its representatives reached out to the leaders of the Bloods and the Crips, asking them to tone down the violent activity around the theaters and offering jobs to any gang member who wanted the job. It was all part of Magic’s plan to give back to the community and fuel its success.
The TV show “Magic Hour”.
In one of his only career missteps, the docuseries includes Magic Johnson’s short-lived attempt at hosting a celebrity talk show. In 1998, Johnson hosted 12 episodes of The Magic Hourwhich Jimmy Kimmel called “one of the worst television shows in history.” The Magic Hour currently holds an IMDb score of 3.6.
With Sheila E. as Magic’s band leader, the series was so poorly received that it was almost instantly forgotten, despite the appearance of such notable guests as Cher, Harrison Ford, Michael Douglas, Howard Stern, Arnold Schwarzenegger and more.
Part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers
Given that this happened long after his playing career, it’s easy to overlook the fact that Magic continues to thrive as co-owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team. The show shows how happy and proud Magic is that the team won a championship in 2020 and reaffirms its status as a born winner.
The successful involvement also reinforces Magic’s inseparable connection to the city of Los Angeles and how, despite being the same Michigan man, he never turned his back on the place that embraced him early in his illustrious career.
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