Earvin “Magic” Johnson grew up with nine siblings in Lansing, Michigan. Born in 1959, Magic soon developed a passion for basketball, and he turned heads early. The name Magic was coined by a reporter when Magic dropped 36 points, 16 rebounds, and 16 assists in a high school basketball game.
Magic went to Michigan State University where he immediately made an impact. He was a never-before-seen type of player because he stood at 6 feet 9 inches as a point guard.
In his sophomore year, he led his team to the NCAA Finals, where his team faced Indiana State led by Larry Bird. Michigan won, and the Bird-Johnson rivalry, one of the greatest in all of sports, began.
Magic was drafted by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1979 after only two years in college. He had a stellar first season, which culminated in a Lakers championship victory versus the Philadelphia, as well as the NBA Finals MVP presented to Magic. The Laker won again two years later against the 76ers, and Magic won his second Finals MVP. The 76ers won the third matchup in 1983.
The 1984 NBA Finals marked the beginning of the Magic/Lakers-Bird/Celtics rivalry of the 1980s. This rivalry spurred the NBA from a shaky standing into the soaring profits of the next three decades.
The Celtics won in 1984, and the Lakers won in 1985. In 1987 the Lakers won again, and Magic was awarded his third Finals MVP. Additionally, Johnson won his first regular season MVP in 1987, which he would also win in 1989 and 1990.
Magic announced that he had HIV in 1991. The virus caused great uncertainty across the globe at the time. People were terrified of the deadly potentials, and there was misinformation about HIV’s transmission. Many believed that only drug users and homosexuals could contract the disease.
Magic’s public admission created much needed awareness and information for the public. Magic spoke publicly, started a foundation, and wrote an educational guide around the condition.
Magic remained strong, and he played for the 1992 Olympic Team (The Dream Team). He played one more NBA season in 1996. He continued to excel through writing, sports management, and a variety of business holdings.
In addition to having multiple NBA Championships, Finals MVPs, regular season MVPs, and being an easy lock for the Hall of Fame, Magic was a public health ambassador during a time of fear and uncertainty for the world. His bravery and poise are remembered today, and some of his best trading cards help to capture his courage.
1979-1980 Topps Magic Johnson Rookie Card
The 1979-1980 Topps came in a three for one design. At the time of its release, the design of three separable cards in one was not very popular, but it is a cherished set today.
Perhaps the most famous card of the three for one design is Magic Johnson’s rookie card because it is attached to Larry Bird’s rookie card with the Hall of Famer Julius Erving in the middle. It is excellent symbolism that the two players’ rookie cards are physically connected.
There were 176 cards in the set, and 264 different players were depicted overall. The cards are condition sensitive for the entire set because kids liked to separate the cards on opening. There are over seven thousand of Bird/Erving/Johnson card registered by PSA. 24 of those are in Gem Mint condition, and 600 are Mint.
While most cards in the set can be purchased for a few hundred in Gem Mint condition, the Bird/Erving/Johnson card sells for over $100,000 in Gem Mint condition. The most recent registered sale was $114,000 in February of 2019.
1980-1981 Topps Magic Johnson
The 1981 Topps basketball set is not overly expensive. It has the distinction of being the last major set for the NBA until the 1986 Fleer. It also has the rookie cards of Kevin McHale and Bill Laimbeer.
There were 198 cards total, and it had a different distribution scheme. 66 cards were distributed nationally, and subsets consisting of 44 cards were distributed in the East, West, and Midwest. Magic’s card is in the national distributed set.
Magic’s sophomore card is inexpensive. While a PSA 10 will sell for between $350 and $600, a quality Mint condition card sold for around $70 in 2019.
1986 Fleer Magic Johnson
The 1986 Fleer is the most important basketball set. Basketball came into its own in the 90s, and this set has several rookie cards of 90s Hall of Famers. Basketball was not very competitive with baseball and football during the early days of the NBA, and cards frequently came in and out of production. This is the first national set since the 1981 Topps.
There are 132 cards of standard size. The fronts are easily recognized by the checkered red, white, and blue border. Completing the set is a popular challenge because of the number of great players. This increases the importance of a card like Magic’s, even though it is far from his rookie season.
In 2019 Gem Mint cards sold for $300-$500 on eBay. By the time the quality drops to a PSA 8, it sells for around $30. It’s a popular set with many cards being sold. There are over 230,000 cards registered by PSA for the entire set, and a few thousand of those are Magic Johnson’s cards.
Fleer followed up the next year with a well received set. There are far fewer rookies, which is understandable, but there are many recognizable second year cards.
Magic Johnson’s card is affordable for the 1987 Fleer. There are many available on the secondary market. Gem Mint cards cost about $300, and the price drops to $30 for a PSA Mint 9.
Magic Johnson had a major impact on and off the court for basketball. He helped popularize the game at home and abroad, and he represented the members of the NBA as a strong individual. His cards are a good medium through which to represent his success.