Earvin “Magic” Johnson Jr. (08/14/59) is a retired point guard who played for the LA Lakers for 13 seasons. A five-time NBA champion, he’s arguably the most popular player from the era who paved the way for the current crop of stars.
A legend in his own right, Johnson is famous for his response to discovering that he had tested positive for HIV in November 1991. He advocated for AIDS awareness and moved on to several successful business ventures following his retirement.
Johnson’s cards are precious, with a mixture of reasons why. There are hordes of Lakers fans, while his story is unique, considering his battle against AIDS and the stigma attached to the disease at the time.
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Former teammates such as Byron Scott and A. C. Green went so far as to say that Johnson shouldn’t be allowed to play in the 1992 Olympics, although he ended the event with a gold medal.
Magic is also in the news frequently, while he served as the Lakers president of basketball operations until midway through 2019. He cited “backstabbing and the whispering” as the cause for the split.
Johnson came through in the early 1980s, so it can be not easy to find pristine copies that have made it past the last 40 years unscathed.
A number of his cards were released in the junk wax era between the late-1980s and early 1990s, meaning many aren’t worth more than a few dollars.
We’ve identified three of the best Johnson rookie cards to keep an eye out for at auction.
1980 Topps #6 Larry Bird RC – Julius Erving TL – Magic Johnson RC
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One of the most iconic basketball cards of all time, the 1980-81 Topps Magic Johnson Larry Bird Rookie Card has a perforated design that allows for separating the three individual players into more miniature collectibles.
The front of the card shows Larry Bird on the left, with Julius Erving and Johnson in different action shots going across. The back of Johnson’s card notes that “Magic led Lakers with 187 steals last season and made NBA’s All-Rookie team.”
Magic Johnson Rookie Season Stats: 18 points per game, 7.3 assists, 7.7 total rebounds, and averaged just over 36 minutes per game.
A pristine copy set a new record in September 2018, selling for $125,200. A PSA 9 will sell for thousands of dollars, while even an 8 grade can go for over $1,000. Aside from the condition, it’s the inclusion of rival Bird which has helped to bump prices up to their current levels.
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Bird and Magic were two of the decade’s biggest names, with their rivalry helping to ‘save the NBA’ after the dark times in the 1970s. Everything from drug use to racism dogged the sport, and they helped to make it more mainstream for an American audience.
Julius Erving rounds out the trio, and the card is worth far more as long as it’s still pieced together. Of course, most people immediately split the cards upon opening their pack back in the 1980s, which is one of many reasons why it can go for a six-figure sum.
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If you want ‘the best’ Magic Johnson rookie card, you can’t do any better than the Topps #6.
1980 Magic Johnson Topps RC #111 (John Long – Magic Johnson AS – Ron Boone)
Alternatively, another perforated card is available for a fraction of the normal price. Flanked by John Long and Ron Boone, Topps #111 is similar to the abovementioned one.
The price difference is primarily due to Larry Bird’s exclusion for reasons we’ve already gone into. Instead, the front of the card lists Johnson as an All-Star, with a pink and white border around his segment.[irp]
Long was a solid shooting guard who ended his career after playing for several teams, while Boone was an ABA champion who featured throughout the 1970s. They’re both successful in their own right, but they can’t compare to “the Great White Hope”.
It comes with a 1980 Topps Basketbak checklist, which takes up the back of Johnson’s card. There’s also no quote, which is a shame as it would probably be worth more if they’d dedicated a section to Magic’s achievements and stats.
1980 Magic Johnson Topps RC #146 Jan Van Breda Kolff – Julius Erving TL – Magic Johnson
We’ll round off the list with Topps #146. Along with Magic on the right, Julius Erving and Jan Van Breda Kolff make up the three players to feature on the full card. Magic is pictured leaping through the air, clasping the ball in one hand and he reaches to score.
The card also has the same quote on the reverse of Johnson’s section; “Magic led Lakers with 187 steals last season and made NBA’s All-Rookie team.” There’s also a small factoid, noting that “Magic majored in telecommunications in Michigan state.” It lists basic stats, along with pro totals for the Lakers.[irp posts=”18377″ name=”2021 Panini NBA Hoops – Top 5 Cards, Review, and Checklist”]
The middle section lists the 76ers scoring leaders, with Erving taking center stage. He’s a highly decorated player, who had two shirt numbers retired when he called time on his career. (32 was retired by the Brooklyn Nets and number 6 retired by the 76ers.) Van Breda Kolff had a more humble career path but was still named as the SEC Player of the Year in 1974.
Given the era, Johnson doesn’t have an extensive list of rookie cards compared to the average All-Star of today. Many were released as a trio, and some collectors prefer modern options.
- 1980 Topps #6 Larry Bird RC – Julius Erving TL – Magic Johnson RC
- 1980 Topps #66 Maurice Cheeks – Magic Johnson AS – Ron Boone
- 1980 Topps #111 John Long – Magic Johnson AS – Ron Boone
- 1980 Topps #146 Jan Van Breda Kolff – Julius Erving TL – Magic Johnson
- 1980 Topps Magic Johnson – DR J – Van Breda Rookie Card #146
- 1981 Topps Magic Johnson Solo RC #21
Unfortunately, most of his signed cards were released after the turn of the millennium, but one rookie card manages to stand out from the crowd.
Magic Johnson Rookie Card Value
The most expensive Magic Johnson rookie card is the 1980 Topps Basketball Card Scoring Leaders Larry Bird & Magic Johnson rookie card #139.
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Buyers Rating and Investment Outlook
Magic Johnson was truly magic on the court, and his rookie cards should perform magic on your net worth, increasing it year after year.
Magic Johnson Rookie Card Investment Rating? Buy (4.6 out of 5)
Ownership Disclosure? None
What is the best Magic Johnson Rookie Card? The best Magic Johnson rookie card from a sports card investment standpoint would be the 1980 Topps (includes Julius Erving and Larry Bird) Magic Johnson rookie card.