Some of the NBA’s most prolific players have played for the purple and gold. From Wilt Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Shaquille O’Neal and LeBron James, the list of former and current Lakers is a dizzying cast of stars and superstars. Still, there has only ever been and will only ever be one Magic Johnson.
Magic’s arrival in 1979-80 launched the Showtime era in LA. The 6’9″ Johnson was a point forward unlike anything the league had every seen. He combined high-octane offense with rangy defense, all with his own trademark style.
A five-time NBA Champion and three-time NBA MVP, Magic Johnson is unquestionably one of the Association’s most accomplished players. How does he stack up against the rest of the league? Let’s explore where Magic Johnson ranks all time in NBA regular season history.
Total played games: 909 (243rd all time)
Unfortunately, Magic Johnson’s NBA playing career was cut short in 1991, save a brief comeback a few seasons later. When assessing his career totals, this is a crucial lens – that he ranks so highly in some categories is testament to his brilliance. Otherwise a few more seasons under his belt might have seen Magic land higher in certain record books.
Magic’s longtime teammate, for example, ended his career having played 1,560 regular season games. That’s good for second all time and eight full years of service more than Magic. All the same, Johnson’s incredible dominance throughout the 1980s gives him an unimpeachable resume.
Total points scored: 17,070 (83rd all time)
Magic averaged 19.5 points per game during the regular season as a pro in the NBA. Remarkably, his career playoff points per game also sits at 19.5. High volume scoring isn’t what Magic was all about.
The former Spartan was efficient with the ball, however. He shot 54.1% from the field, and was an incredibly reliable free throw shooter. Part of why he didn’t score more was because he didn’t need to. Kareem, James Worthy, and other members of the Showtime Lakers simply finished what Magic started on the offense.
Total rebounds: 6,559 (146th all time)
After some jockeying with Norm Nixon, Johnson eventually became the Lakers primary point guard. His job was the quarterback the offense, and importantly for this era of LA basketball, lead the fastbreak.
For that reason, rebounding wasn’t an integral part of Magic’s on the court responsibilities. That didn’t stop Magic, though – he logged 7.2 boards per game for his entire career. A product of his stellar instincts, Magic could use his size and speed to swoop in and snag just about any errant rebound.
Total assists: 10,141 (6th all time)
Even though Magic’s career was shorter than some of the other hall of famers and superstars, he’s still among the most accomplished players passing the ball. In fact, Johnson authored four of the fifteen top seasons by total assists in NBA history. Impossibly, John Stockton owns eight of these.
Magic does hold an edge over Stockton, however. Johnson’s 11.2 career assists per game is the highest mark in NBA history. It’s not surprising – the Lakers and their five championships in the 80s won behind a new standard for sharing the ball and upping the pace.
It’s rare a nickname and playing style match so damn well. But the way Earvin Johnson passed the ball was truly Magic.
Total triple doubles: 138 (3rd all time)
Magic Johnson really is a player without rival. He saw the game with the vision of John Stockton or Chris Paul. He could pick apart a defense like LeBron James or Larry Bird. He played with speed and athleticism like Russell Westbrook or Julius Irving. It’s no surprise he consistently filled the stat sheet.
Russell Westbrook changed the perceived value of triple doubles. After all, a dominant player could probably manufacture a triple double on any given night if they really wanted to. Still, most of the time these come about organically behind unbelievable effort. That Magic is number three here despite his short playing career speaking volumes.
Total steals: 1724 (22nd all time)
Magic didn’t just get it done on offense. To watch an old Lakers game from the Showtime Era is to watch a team truly excel wire-to-wire and on both sides of the ball. Johnson was a key part of this, too, of course.
On either end of the court, Johnson played with finesse and incredibly sharp anticipatory skills. He could sense a pass coming before an opponent did, and in the blink of an eye be on his way to a fast-break dunk. As transcendent a player he was scoring the ball, Magic was just as magnificent on defense.