TV & Movies

Everything To Know About Magic Johnson’s Parents

They’re portrayed in HBO’s Winning Time by Rob Morgan and LisaGay Hamilton.

by Kadin Burnett
Earvin "Magic" Johnson, top pick in the NBA draft 6/25, gets a proud hug from his mother, Christine.
Bettmann/Bettmann/Getty Images

HBO’s new limited series Winning Time traces the rise of the Los Angeles Lakers in the ‘80s and their cultural dominance throughout the decade. The show picks up just before the team drafted future Hall-of-Famer Magic Johnson. However, the point guard’s story began far from the glitz and glamour of LA.

Earvin “Magic” Johnson was born in Lansing, Michigan in August 1959 to Earvin Johnson Sr. and Christine Johnson. He was the fourth of seven children the couple shared. (Earvin Sr. also had three kids from a previous marriage, making Magic one of 10). Earvin Sr. worked as both a General Motors assembly worker and garbage man, while Christine was a school custodian. They stressed the importance of a good work ethic to Magic. According to J. Chris Roselius’ 2011 biography, Magic Johnson: Basketball Star & Entrepreneur, Magic was expected to do his fair share of chores like raking leaves or shoveling snow. His father didn’t believe in handing out money that hadn’t been earned, so Magic had to work for any spending cash. At 10 years old, he started his own lawn care business, and in high school, he cleaned offices part-time.

Magic also got his knack for basketball from his parents. His father had played in high school in his home state of Mississippi and often watched NBA games while Magic was growing up. His mother, who is originally from North Carolina, had played when she was young too. According to Magic Johnson: Basketball Star & Entrepreneur, Magic said his dad helped him understand the finer points of the sport. “When he was not playing, [Magic] listened to his father talk about the game — about details that could help an average player become a good player and a good player become great,” Roselius wrote.

Magic played basketball throughout his childhood, but it wasn’t until high school that he earned his nickname. While covering a 1974 Lansing Everett high school game in which Johnson notched 36 points, 16 rebounds, and 16 assists, journalist Fred Stabley Jr. referred to the then-15-year-old as “magic” in the Lansing State Journal. The name stuck — despite Magic’s mother’s distaste for it. According to a 2021 profile of Magic, his mother, a devout Christian, felt the nickname was “blasphemous.” Both she and her husband Earvin Sr. preferred “Junior” or “June Bug,” as neighbors called him as a kid. (His friends also called him E.J. or E.)

Magic went on to play basketball for Michigan State, becoming one of the most sought-after rookies in the 1979 NBA draft. Magic’s response to this led to small tiff between him and his dad while he was negotiating his first NBA contract. As recounted in Showtime: Magic, Kareem, Riley and the Los Angeles Lakers Dynasty of the 1980s — the book Winning Time is based on — Magic had met with Jack Kent Cooke, the then-owner of the Lakers, to discuss his salary ahead of the NBA draft. Magic knew he was going to be the first pick in the draft, and being that the Lakers were drafting first overall, both parties jumped ahead to contract negotiations. Johnson wanted $600,000 to help aid his schooling expenses, but Cooke was only willing to offer $400,000. Johnson rebuffed the offer saying, “I guess I’ll be going back to school.”

In the book, Earvin Sr. is described as a steadfast, blue-collar father, which is why he was flabbergasted when his then-19-year-old son turned down just shy of half a million dollars. “I’ve worked in a factory my whole life for what he’s offering you for one year,” he told his son. “And for something you love doing! Don’t be greedy.” (In Magic’s defense, he went on to become the highest-paid rookie ever, getting a $500,000 contract.)

Since then, Johnson’s parents have been ardent supporters of his career. In 2020, he took to Instagram to post tributes to both of them. For his mother’s 85th birthday in August, he quoted a bible verse. “Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”

And for Father’s Day in June, he wrote to his dad: “As your Junior, I aspire to be the man and father that you are. You worked so hard to allow your children to follow our own individual paths to success. You always preached hard work and education would allow our dreams to come true and were the first person that told me if it was my dream to play in the NBA and become a businessman I could! I honor you and cherish you more than ever!”

Both of Magic’s parents will be portrayed in Winning Time, premiering on March 6. His father is played by Rob Morgan (Don’t Look Up, Just Mercy), and his mother is played by LisaGay Hamilton (Ad Astra).