“He’s still the most popular athlete in Los Angeles, and that’s saying something.”
There is just something about Earvin “Magic” Johnson that make you want to like him. Maybe it’s the smile that lights the whole world. Maybe it’s the way he can either put the ball in the hoop or pass it off (without looking) for a teammate to do it. Maybe it’s the way he has faced adversity. Maybe it’s the way he has become a business success. All of those are shown in the new docuseries They Call Me Magic on Apple TV+.
The series gives us a look into this man who has done so much, not only in his sports achievement, but in what he has done after his playing days were ever (much too soon). The four episodes, for the most part, are a chronological look at his life. The first two episodes are fairly pedestrian sports biography. However, watching Magic do his thing on the court can hardly be called pedestrian. The two later episodes are what really show us what the man has had to deal with and how he has overcome and conquered beyond the sports world.
The series makes the point early on that there are two people here: Earvin Johnson, Jr. and “Magic” Johnson (a name given him by a local sportswriter after his second high school game). Magic is the one who dazzles the world—whether with no-look passes or lavish parties. Earvin is quieter. He is a father and husband (more on that later). He is now a businessman who strives to build community.
While I may sound like I downgrade the first episodes, they do lay a lot of the groundwork for what we see in the later ones. For example, we have to understand his drive for perfection in sports to understand his drive in the business world. We need to see the on-and-off relationship with his (eventual) wife Cookie, to understand his role as a father. We need to see how he lived with fame to understand how he lived with HIV. We need to see how he was nurtured by Lakers owner Jerry Buss to fully understand how he could be come a mentor to those who received scholarships from Johnson’s foundation.
For all the talk of the Earvin/Magic dichotomy, there are many ways that the two sides of the man blend well. That is especially true of how he became a prominent spokesperson for HIV. When he was first diagnosed, he and the team kept it quiet for as long as they could. When the news broke, he became the most famous HIV-positive person in the world. Not only his fame, but his drive and personality led him to become very public about the disease, how he caught it, and what it meant to his family life. This was at a time when being HIV-positive usually meant death.
Likewise, his two demeanors blended well to grow his business enterprises, from movie theaters to Starbucks to now three pro sports teams in L.A., including the Dodgers. The blue collar work ethic he learned from his parents combines with a concern for the Black community (especially following the 1992 civil disturbance) to build not only his wealth, but to make the world a better place because of what he is doing.
Even so many years after he played basketball, everyone still knows and loves Magic Johnson. They Call Me Magic gives us an opportunity to meet and appreciate Earvin Johnson as well.
They Call Me Magic streams on Apple TV+.