On court positions in the modern NBA are becoming less and less dependant on height and size. Giannis, the reigning MVP is a 6ft11 monster who can run the point, protect the rim and do most things in between. Kevin Durrant is a near 7ft shooting guard and Draymond Green is an undersized centre with the playmaking skills of an elite point guard. Back in the 80’s when Finals games were still being shown on tape delay, there was one player who warped the expectation of size and position before anyone else. His name was Earvin Johnson. But to most basketball fans, he’s known simply as Magic.
What is Magic Johnson’s Height? Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson was a Point Guard for the Los Angeles Lakers between 1979 and 1996. He had a listed height of 6ft9 and 215lbs, towering above most Point Guards of the time. Famously filling in for Hall of Fame Centre, Kareem Abdul Jabbar in the 1987 Finals. Winning 5 NBA titles, 3 regular season MVP, 3 Finals MVP and 4 assist titles. He became one of the most loved and highly rated players of all time as the engine of the “Showtime Lakers”.
There is so much more to Earvin Magic Johnson than just his status as one of the earliest ‘Unicorns’ of the NBA. His rivalry with Larry Bird helped save the NBA from falling into obscurity, his electric style of play helped pave the way for most of the highlights you see in the NBA today. His place in the 1992 USA Dream Team, his battle with aids and heroic return in the Allstar game all helped shape the NBA we know and love today. He might be ‘only’ 6ft9, but he is a true cultural giant.
Magic Johnson’s Height and his College Career
Throughout his life Johnson’s height would define how and where he played. Born in Michigan, he was keen to choose a college that was close to home. Given his prodigious Basketball talent this meant accepting a scholarship to either Michigan or Michigan State. Eventually the decision would be made because he was told he could play point guard at Michigan State and so he became a Spartan. For a player of Magic’s playmaking and passing talents, playing point guard would usually be a given. However, as he was 6ft9, he didn’t fit into the typical point guard mould. Back in the 70’s and 80’s positioning players based on skill, rather than physical attributes wasn’t as common as it is today. It proved an inspired decision and Magic would average almost 18 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists during his two years at college. Famously defeating Larry Bird’s Indiana state in the NCAA Tournament Final, said to be the most watched college Basketball game to that date.
The next year both Magic and Larry would enter a floundering NBA, their rivalry would revive TV ratings and bring the National Basketball Association back from the brink of bankruptcy.
Magic Johnson’s Height and his Rookie Year
Magic entered the NBA as the first pick in the 1979 draft. He joined a stacked Lakers team who had received the pick from the New Orleans Jazz in a 1976 trade involving Gail Goodrich. Although he had played Point Guard, successfully in college, it was expected that he would have to slide to the Power Forward spot in the NBA. The Laker’s had Norm Nixon playing point guard and he was considered one of the best in the league. However, they had failed to win the title in the 4 seasons’ since they signed future hall of famer Kareem Abdul Jabbar, so decided use Magic at the point guard spot. This worked well and although Larry Bird who had joined the Celtics won Rookie of the year, Magic would have the last laugh once again as he led the Laker’s to the title picking up Finals MVP as a rookie. This has never been done before or since. He was able to edge out Kareem for the honour as Kareem missed game 6 as he had sprained his ankle. This led to Magic Johnson using his height, filling in at Centre and using Kareem’s patented Sky-hook move, which would become known as the junior-sky-hook.
Magic Johnson’s Height and Larry Bird
Over the next half decade, the rivalry between Magic and Bird would play out mostly in the Finals. The two 6ft9 playmakers would go up against each other in 3 of 4 Finals. Despite both being their team’s primary playmaker, the same height and possessing elite passing skills, they played in different positions. Bird was very much seen as a forward. Magic was in the process of redefining the point guard position for generations to come. They played in opposite conferences, Magic in the West and Bird in the East. This meant outside of them meeting in the finals they would only play each other twice a year (excluding the All-star game).
Magic used to say that the two regular season games against the Celtics were the only ones that really mattered to him, while Bird regularly checked Magics box score as one of his morning routines! The rivalry wasn’t just in the media, it was real. They entered the league at a time when the NBA was struggling. The television audience was dwindling so much that even Finals games weren’t always shown live. Pushed out the way for prime time shows and replayed in their entirety for the first-time hours later. The league was said to be on the verge of bankruptcy. The gritty collar play of Bird and the Celtics, going up against the Showtime play of Magic and the Lakers re-ignited fans imaginations. Suddenly the league was buzzing, pulled back from the brink and set on a path to become what it is today, a pure hybrid of competition, drama and entertainment.
Magic Johnson wasn’t just a tall point guard. His ability to read the game and create plays and excitement out of almost nothing would have seen him flourish at almost any height. However his heght set him apart, allowed him to set the NBA alight and start the boom that we are still riding today. Magic Johnson was the first NBA Unicorn.