Magic Johnson is almost universally considered one of the top ten basketball players of all time. And we have never seen a player quite as giving and inspiring before or since. You see, Magic had as much scoring talent as any other player. But he chose to spread the ball lovingly to his teammates and help everyone around him play better. Watching him play was a delight. As he charged with the ball, you never knew if he would drive to the basket or launch one of his trademarks behind the back passes, a ridiculously precise lob, or just the most intelligent forward pass you ever saw. It was literally magic.
His rivalry with Larry Bird is the stuff of legends. But the truth is, by the end of the decade, it was clear who was the better basketball player. Magic Johnson won the MVP thrice in four years from 1987 to 1990. He also won 5 titles to Birds three, over a short career spanning just 12 years. The secret to all those titles was how Johnson made everyone on the Lakers better. Most famously, he revived a tired Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and gave him a second inspiring chapter to a legendary career. But he also knew when to take the game upon himself. Magic is the only player to ever have multiple triple-doubles in NBA Finals-clinching games. A true winner.
But Magic Johnson was and remains much more than just a great basketball player. His million-dollar smile and raw charisma made the player the perfect face of the Lakers in the showtime era. It is hard to imagine all those Hollywood sitting courtside if the team leaders were Kareem and James Worthy. He embodied the showbiz image of the team, and as Lakers owner Jennie Buss put it, “The Lakers and Magic are soulmates. They were meant to be together.” Meanwhile, his inspiring battle against HIV placed Magic Johnson indelibly in the public eye even after his retirement.
Collecting Magic Johnson Cards
As you can guess, this combination of factors make Magic Johnson cards incredibly collectible. Not only are we talking about one of the top ten players ever, but also a massive celebrity who meant a lot to a generation that is still around and collecting cards.
Unfortunately, some of the point guard's prime years came in years without significant basketball card releases. He has rookie cards because Topps was still in the mix then. But then, until the 1986 Fleer release, there was a lull. It came because the NBA was in a dark place regarding popularity and profitability. But Magic Johnson and the Lakers were one of the reasons the league came back bigger and better than ever. And his cards reflect that role in bringing the game to the masses.
Without further ado, here are his top cards.
1990 Hoops Magic Johnson #157
A PSA 10 sold for $55
The 1990 Hoops Magic Johnson #157 is an example of a phenomenon accompanying his cards throughout the years. Ugly 1980s designs, saved by beautiful action shots of Magic. The players were incredibly photogenic. And I don’t just mean in the usual way of looking good in photographs, although she certainly did. Instead, his style of play was so artistic and graceful that it translated into beautiful still shots as well. It's no coincidence that every action shot in this list is gorgeous. Magic’s play was stunning.
1990 Fleer Magic Johnson #93
A PSA 10 sold for $65
1990 was Magic’s last truly top-notch season, seeing him win the MVP with a spectacular performance across the board. The action shot on the 1990 Fleer Magic Johnson #93 captures the player doing what he did best, controlling the game's tempo in an inspired and creative manner. Too bad the 1990 Fleer Basketball cards were not as clever as Earvin was. These cards often have centering problems, which leads to problematic grades. Still, that has not done much to lower the overall value.
1989 Hoops Magic Johnson #270
A PSA 10 sold for $70
You don’t need me to tell you these early Hoops designs were hideous. The 1989 version, with these weird arches, may be the worst of the lot. And they are overprinted to boot. But none of that ruins this card. The 1989 Hoops Magic Johnson #270 has Johnson running things as a point and flashing that irresistible smile. It is a souvenir of one of these best seasons, ending with an MVP for Earvin.
1989 Fleer Magic Johnson #77
A PSA 10 sold for $225
Hot take: 1989 Fleer Basketball are the best-looking cards the company put out in the 1980s. The design certainly works for the 1989 Fleer Magic Johnson #77, which makes the most of the purple in the Lakers team colors. I also like how they cite league leaders on the front of the base card, in this case, drawing attention to Magic’s excellent free throw capabilities. He had an 84% percentage for his career. It is a reminder that this wonderful player wasn’t just about flash. Earvin also had solid fundamentals.
1983-84 Star Company Magic Johnson #13 SP
A PSA 8 sold for $360
During the doldrums of the mid-1980s, there were no significant releases of basketball cards. But we did have some minor releases, like the 1983-84 Star. It was a conscious attempt to step into the breach left open by Topps, and not a particularly successful one, as they folded after several releases. Still, the design of 1983 Star #13 Magic Johnson is solid, and we love to see Magic with his enforcement goon, I mean teammate Kurt Rambis.
1993-94 Hoops Commemorative Larry Bird, Magic Johnson Dual Autograph
A PSA 10 sold for $1,100
This card is amazingly underpriced. You can get raw versions of the 1993-94 Hoops Commemorative Larry Bird Magic Johnson Dual Autograph card for incredibly low prices. They will not stay that low forever. The design is poor, and the pictures could be better. But they do show the two biggest rivals in basketball history struggling for position, as they did so many times in the 1980s. Basketball has never seen intensity like that between two players ever again. There are other dual autos of these players, but this is the earliest one.
1995-96 Finest Magic Johnson Refractor (with coating) #252
A PSA 10 sold for $1,250
Magic Johnson made a short comeback in 1995, a few years after being diagnosed with HIV. His comeback was remarkable for collectors. It allows us a legit first-generation refractor featuring Johnson. The 1995-96 Finest Magic Johnson Refractor (with coating) #252 is one of the best looking in a series that is particularly stunning all around. As always, it's Magic’s beautiful smile that really sells it.
1987 Fleer Magic Johnson #56
A PSA 10 sold for $2,475
The 1987 Fleer Basketball card set has always been less popular than its 1986 counterpart for two reasons. First, it had an inferior crop of rookies. Second, let’s be totally honest: the design is hideously ugly. Still, the 1987 Fleer Magic Johnson #56 has an atypically subdued but attractive picture of our hero. It also captures him at his peak since 1987 was arguably his best season and saw Johnson win his three MVP awards.
1986 Fleer Magic Johnson #53
A PSA 10 sold for $6,275
1986 Fleer Basketball is the best-known basketball card set ever. And it ended a miserable four-year stretch with no basketball cards. Over that time, Magic Johnson went from being an up-and-coming star to the best player in the league. And in the 1986 Fleer Magic Johnson #53 card, you can see him working his way past Kevin McHale of the rival Celtics. Although Magic Johnson’s card is not among the many excellent and coveted rookies in the 1986 release, it remains one of the most attractive and awesome cards in the release.
1981-82 Topps Magic Johnson #21
A PSA 10 sold for $18,000
Perhaps the most attractive of Magic's base cards, the action shot catches him after slicing the defense with a trademark move. The 1981-82 Topps Magic Johnson #21 action picture really showcases how even when you centered the entire defense on the man, the Lakers point guard was still invincible. The traditional Bazooka-style design would make some other cards in this release seem boring. But it only brings out the beauty of the perfect shot.
1986-87 Fleer Sticker Magic Johnson #7
A PSA 10 sold for $12,735
The 1986 Fleer stickers are more challenging to get in decent shape than their regular card equivalents. After all, people were sticking them onto things. I am sure if I had one as a kid, it would have ended up on my dresser drawer next to the Muppets and Smurfs stickers I had there. It's actually surprising that there are 46 PSA 10s out in the wild. But due to its rarity, the 1986-87 Fleer Sticker Magic Johnson #7 is one of the most valuable cards issued for the player. We also love seeing Rambis ready to whoop anyone who gets near Magic.
2006 Upper Deck Exquisite Enshrinement Michael Jordan / Magic Johnson /10
A PSA 10 sold for $17,000
Upper Deck managed to get exclusive auto rights to many of the basketball all-time greats, including Michael Jordan and Magic Johnson. Thankfully, they are also great at designs and made this absolute beauty. There is literally nothing I would change about the 2006 Upper Deck Exquisite Enshrinement Michael Jordan / Magic Johnson /10#. It is one of the most attractive cards of its kind ever made.
2008 Upper Deck Premier Michael Jordan / LeBron James / Magic Johnson Triple Auto #JJJ
A PSA 10 sold for $32,000
This triple threat card is a reminder of the rarified air of Magic Johnson’s career. He is a natural third addition to a card featuring (arguably) the two greatest basketball players that ever lived. The price of the 2008 Upper Deck Premier Michael Jordan / LeBron James / Magic Johnson Triple Auto #JJJ is nothing to sneeze at. But considering who the signatories are and that it is numbered 45, the price should go up significantly. It also helps that unlike many other triple autos, this one is stunningly gorgeous.
Exquisite Collection Magic Johnson Autographs #LL-MA (AUTOGRAPH PATCH)
A PSA 10 sold for $98,400
Sadly, we live in a world that does not have a Magic Johnson RPA. Therefore, we will have to settle for the Exquisite Collection Magic Johnson Autographs #LL-MA (AUTOGRAPH PATCH). Upper Deck makes beautiful patch autos, and the design for this one is stunning. However, Magic is photogenic and it's a waste to limit him to the tiny picture seen here. To make things worse, this is a particularly ugly photo as well. Nonetheless, as a low count early patch auto of the great player, it has remarkable value.
1980-81 Topps Larry Bird RC #34 / Julius Erving #174 / Magic Johnson RC #139
A PSA 10 sold for $724,500
Aside from a particular card in Fleer 1986 basketball, the 1980-81 Topps Larry Bird RC #34 / Julius Erving #174 / Magic Johnson RC #139 is the most important card ever made. It's funny, because league leader cards are usually only some of that valuable. But this one was just so perfect that it has withstood the test of time. Larry Bird and Magic Jonson were, of course, the biggest and most heavily debated rivals in basketball history. The league was privileged to have both of them come up simultaneously.
Meanwhile, Julius Erving was arguably the best player of the 1970s and emblematic of the generation the 1980 draft picks had come to replace. The perforated lines between the players add to the charm of this beautiful card, making it difficult to find one in decent condition. That is why even though many people kept this beauty, there are only 23 gem mints.
Beyond the Court: 15 Magic Johnson Cards Worth the Hype
Because he is still alive and around, it seems the basketball card community hasn’t quite given Magic Johnson cards the respect they deserve. It also doesn’t help that many of his cards came out during the junk wax era, and there are no major releases from key early seasons in Earvin’s career. But the facts will win out. Johnson is one of the best players who ever lived, and his cards are (with very few exceptions) stunning. He just photographs well. I think his market is set to improve significantly over the years.