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November 02, 2009
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November 02, 2009

The Vault

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Every SI Story ... Every SI Photo ... Ever SI.COM/VAULT

EXCERPT | Nov. 19, 1979

Magical in L.A.

NBA fans had never seen the likes of this rookie

Less than a month into his rookie season, No. 1 draft pick Magic Johnson had transformed the Lakers. Bruce Newman reported from Los Angeles.

A few years ago—even last season—it wouldn't have been unusual to see a fan taking a snooze at courtside during a Los Angeles Lakers game in The Forum, where the chilly reserve of the crowds usually runs about 10° below body temperature. Ah, but that is the past. Things are warming up now, and by last week the long nights of ennui and frustration were but a grim and distant memory at the once-again-Fabulous Forum, where the Lakers were clearly enjoying life in the fast-break lane. The new-look Lakers had replaced the no-look, no-luck, old-look Lakers, and nowhere was the change more brightly apparent than in the beaming kisser of Earvin (Magic) Johnson Jr.

Johnson was never more typically Magic than in last Friday's 126--122 overtime victory over Denver. He scored 31 points, passed for eight assists and grabbed six rebounds. More than that, he and Norm Nixon, L.A.'s other young guard, cranked up the fast-break game in the second half. "When we started running, my confidence started to rise," said Magic. "I knew it was time to deal on some people. When we're rolling and the break is going, I guess it looks like I am performing magic out there. Some nights I think I can do anything." He stopped for a moment and his soft brown eyes widened. "You really have to love the game to play that way, though," he said. "You can't be afraid to let your emotions out in front of 13,000 people."

Johnson, then 20, was named Finals MVP as the Lakers beat the 76ers to win the 1980 title for the first of his five NBA championships.

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