updated 12/28/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 12/28/1987 AT 01:00 AM EST
But in Los Angeles there is a 6'9", 220-lb. man-child with an incandescent smile who believes otherwise—Earvin "Magic" Johnson, 28, the Lakers' superbly talented point guard. In June he led his team to its fourth National Basketball Association championship since his arrival in 1979, and he intends to lead it back this season for an encore. won't settle for anything less," he says simply.
It's not that simple, of course. But his conviction should give Lakers fans hope. In an era of bloated egos and I-me-mine performances, Johnson stands apart as a man of the team. The NBA's most valuable player last season, he raised his already stratospheric game to new levels. "He's the best in the league," says the Celtics' Larry Bird. "I'd pay to watch him play."
Lethally efficient, rather than flashy, Magic is a sorcerer, and his game sheerest alchemy. How can he hurt you? Let us count the ways: with the critical rebound, the demoralizing steal, the off-balance shot that hits nothing but net, the quicksilver pass that finds its way through a forest of bodies. See it happen: An opponent shoots, and the Lakers' Kareem Abdul-Jabbar grabs the rebound. "Then I get the ball," says Magic. "I go running down court, I see everything developing. I drive, bang bodies.... It all happens so fast, and my eyes get so big they want to pop out! And then I make the play!"
Beneath the ebullient exterior seems to be an interior very much like it. "He's been this happy ever since he was knee-high to a duck," reports his mother, Christine. When he was in high school, in Lansing, Mich., a local sportswriter, awed by the smiling Johnson's improbable repertoire, left him with the nickname that stuck. The kid could do it all with a basketball but discovered that when he did, his teammates were rendered superfluous. So he learned to pass and hasn't stopped yet.
Magic came to the Lakers at the age of 19, after leading Michigan State to the 1979 NCAA title. Even now he seems a star-struck teenager, dazzled by the glitz of L.A. "Sure, I get to meet Michael Jackson, Jack Nicholson and Eddie Murphy," he says. "I even hang around with them. Go out to dinner. But I can't believe it," he adds with a laugh. "I sit there going 'Me?' "
Yeah, him, and no doubt about it. For tangible proof there is the $2.5 million-a-year salary, the five-bedroom Bel Air mansion (with racquetball court), the Rolls-Royce Corniche. And he's got those championship rings. But it's not enough. "The Celtics in the '60s were the greatest team in basketball," says Johnson of the last team to win back-to-back NBA championships. "Now we want to do what they did."