This sort of thing could never have happened in Lansing, of course. By the time Johnson graduated from Everett High his game—and his fame—were established. He had become the first three-time all-state player in Michigan history and an attraction of staggering dimensions in his hometown. People would gather by the hundreds to watch him perform on an asphalt court and by the thousands to see his tricks on hardwood. Once, when Everett played rival Eastern High at Jenison Field House, all 9,886 seats were sold, and the TV rating in the Lansing area for another Everett-Eastern game was just a bit shy of what it had been for that year's Super Bowl. After his senior year, when Johnson returned from a tournament in Germany, banners welcomed him home at the airport, most urging that he play at Michigan State. When he made his announcement, it drew more Lansing media attention than an earlier visit by President Gerald Ford. The grateful response in town and on campus was such that Spartan attendance doubled, turning every home game into a sellout.
Considering the buildup, Johnson and his teammates were on the spot last season. But not even the most optimistic-Spartan fan envisioned that State would win quite as often as it did. "I didn't expect anything like what happened," Johnson says. "One of the reasons I had come to Michigan State was that I love to be the underdog and rise to the occasion. But after we beat Minnesota in our first conference game, I remember going back to the dorm and telling my roommate, 'Man, I think we can do it. I think we can win the Big Ten.' "
If that 87-83 victory over the Gophers told Johnson something about the conference, it told the conference even more about Johnson. He was the best player on the floor that night, scoring 31 points, pulling down eight rebounds and dispensing four assists. Johnson had arrived and the Spartans had arrived with him. At the end of the season they were in first place, and Earvin was first in the league in assists, tied for third in scoring, fifth in free-throw percentage and tied for sixth in rebound average.
Johnson would have made almost any college team successful, but only at hometown State could he have created the commotion that accompanied the Spartans' revival. He has handled it well, because for all the class he possesses on the court, he has just as much off it. "I want people to think of me as a student," he says, "but I know I'm a student in a special category. I mean, I'm a student in the classroom, but around campus I'm Earvin Johnson the basketball player. I can hear people whisper when I walk by. 'Hey, is that Magic?' And I've heard little kids on the playground say, 'I'm Earvin, I'm Earvin.' This is why I'm careful about how I come across to people. I don't want them to think I'm conceited. When you're the main attraction, you've got to watch out."
When you're Earvin Johnson, you'll always be the main attraction, even in a class with class.