A 12x All-Star, 3x MVP, and 5x NBA Champion, Magic Johnson has one of the greatest careers in basketball history.
Yet, his impact, fame, and legacy pale in comparison to Michael Jordan, who was being treated like a superstar before even making his first All-Star team.
It was way back in November of 1984 when Jordan Brand first took off. As a subsidiary of Nike, it was a project guaranteed to succeed. As an unproven Rookie out of North Carolina, MJ had secured more in a few months than most stars had in years of playing. It was only natural that the established veterans might feel a little bitter about it.
In fact, according to Jordan, he even suspected Lakers icon Magic Johnnson of being envious of his quick rise to power, which is why he avoided an immediate friendship with him.
(via The Ringer)
Two days after the All-Star Game, he torched Isiah and his Pistons for 49 points. And, for the next few years, he resisted Magic’s Cheshire cat grin, choosing to engage in perfunctory hand shakes as opposed to bear hugs or high fives. Truth was, he didn’t trust Magic, and resisted developing a friendship with him.
“Well, I understood it to be jealousy. And you know, I think a lot of it came from—Magic Johnson should have been Michael Jordan before Michael Jordan. He had the smile, he had everything, he had the marketability. He had championships.”
The whole arrangement may have been met with fierce resistance by the NBA itself as well. The myth goes that MJ's "Air Jordan 1s" were banned due to their vibrant color scheme that broke league rules. Nike reportedly paid all the fines that were charged to Jordan and created a clever ad campaign targeting the whole ordeal.
No matter what happened with that situation, MJ and his brand only grew in fame, popularity, and success in the years that followed.
Meanwhile, things didn't go nearly as smoothly for Magic, who was partnered with Converse at the time.
Indeed, by 1987, Magic Johnson declared he was so deeply disappointed in Converse that he planned to leave because they were not marketing him properly and maximizing his earning potential. In other words, he was envious they weren’t creating the Magic Brand.
In short, MJ was everything every NBA superstar wanted to be at the time. He had the talent, the swagger, and the brand nobody else enjoyed. In the end, it all came together to help elevate his fame and legacy as basketball's All-Time greatest player.
Did it put a target on his back? It definitely did, and resentment from other NBA stars (besides Magic) is well documented. In the Olympics and the 1985 All-Star game, the veteran stars did everything they could to silence him.
David Falk, Jordan’s longtime agent, said it was clear what was transpiring on the court.
“Everyone knows they froze him out,” Falk tells me. “They froze him out because they were jealous. They said, ‘Who’s this rookie who hasn’t done anything–you know, has something that we don’t have?’”
MJ didn’t win his first title until 1991 when he was already 7 seasons into his career. But his game was elite far before then and it seems everyone had an idea that he would become someone special.
Today, Jordan Brand is still one of the most successful brands in existence. Jordan himself has made amends with many of his biggest competitors, and his “go alone” mindset looks to be buried for good. It’s all love between Jordan and Magic nowadays — but that doesn’t mean it started that way.
Jealousy can be a powerful motivator.