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 became an advocate for AIDS awareness and moved on to several successful business ventures following his retirement.
Johnson’s cards are highly valuable, 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. Former teammates such 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.
Here’s a checklist for his rookie cards, including three of the best options to look out for at auction.
Magic Johnson Rookie Card Checklist
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.
- 1980-81 Topps #6 Larry Bird RC – Julius Erving TL – Magic Johnson RC
- 1980-81 Topps #66 Maurice Cheeks – Magic Johnson AS – Ron Boone
- 1980-81 Topps #111 John Long – Magic Johnson AS – Ron Boone
- 1980-81 Topps #146 Jan Van Breda Kolff – Julius Erving TL – Magic Johnson
- 1980-81 Topps #146
Unfortunately, the majority of his signed cards were released after the turn of the millennium, but there is one rookie card that manages to stand out from the crowd.
The Best 3 Magic Johnson Rookie Cards
Johnson came through in the early 1980s, so it can be difficult 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.
1980-81 Topps #6 Larry Bird RC – Julius Erving TL – Magic Johnson RC
One of the most iconic basketball cards of all time, the 1980-81 Topps Magic Johnson, Larry Bird Rookie Card has a perforated design which is meant to allow for separating the three individual players into smaller 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.”
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.
Bird and Magic were two of the biggest named of the decade, with their rivalry helping to ‘save the NBA’ after the dark times seen in the 1970’s. 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 1980’s, which is one of many reasons why it can go for a six figure sum.
If you want ‘the best’ Magic Johnson rookie card, you can’t do any better than the Topps #6.
1980-81 Topps #111 John Long – Magic Johnson AS – Ron Boone
Alternatively, there’s another perforated card which is available for a fraction of the normal price. Flanked by John Long and Ron Boone, the Topps #111 is pretty similar to the one listed above.
The difference in price is largely 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.
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 1970’s. They’re both successful in their own right, but they can’t compare to “the Great White Hope”.
It comes with a 1980 baseball 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.
1980-81 Topps #146 Jan Van Breda Kolff – Julius Erving TL – Magic Johnson
We’ll round off the list with the 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.
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.
A PSA 9 recently sold for $180, so there’s decent money in it if you’re looking for a good copy. It’s always going to be more affordable than the version at the top of the list, and it means that Magic’s rookie cards are accessible at the lower end.