Magic Johnson had caught Jerry West’s attention during a particular meeting where Magic would cast aside an expensive dish for a hamburger.
The timing of Magic Johnson making it to the league in 1979 as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers was beyond impeccable. The league during the time did not have all too many marketable superstars other than the likes of Julius Erving and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the latter of whom was a brooding big-man, someone who can’t exactly put butts in seats.
Enter Magic Johnson. Prior to him even stepping foot on NBA hardwood, the 6’9 point guard was a legend amongst the basketball community. He had led the Spartans to a 1979 NCAA championship over rival Larry Bird and was now contemplating whether or not he should return to Michigan or take his talents to the big leagues.
A meeting with several major figures in the Lakers organization, along with his father, not only led to Johnson considering the NBA but also the Lakers considering Magic Johnson.
The latter part of that is in reference to the fact that some people on the purple and gold, especially Jerry West himself, wanted to draft defensive stalwart, Sidney Moncrief, instead of Johnson.
Jerry West told Magic Johnson he had never seen anyone talk to Cooke the way he did.
Jack Kent Cooke was a powerful man and so him taking people out for lunch meant something quite expensive was going to be served. Being the 19-year-old kid that Magic Johnson was, he wasn’t interested in ‘sand dabs’. Instead, the famished Spartan wanted a hamburger.
“If it’s ok with you Mr. Cooke, I think I’d rather have a hamburger and some French fries. Would that be ok?” asked Magic.
Given that Cooke was quite the formal man, 9 times out of 10 he would’ve felt disrespected at such a question. Luckily, this was that 10th time. Chick Hearn of the Lakers, told Cooke that Magic was just 19 and that all he knew was burger and fries. Cooke obliged.
Following the exchange, Jerry West told Magic Johnson, “You know, nobody has ever done what you just did to Jack Kent Cooke.”
“OK, gentlemen, here we go,” said NBA Commissioner Larry O’Brien. https://t.co/f45mYTvKRO
— L.A. Times Sports (@latimessports) March 7, 2022
While the question from the eventual 5x champ may have seemed like a fairly simple and harmless one, the way in which Magic carried himself is what attracted the Lakers to him. As much as the NBA is about winning, it is also about marketability and Johnson was exactly what they needed to usher in ‘Showtime’.