22 Magic Johnson Basketball Cards You Need To Own
For anyone who collects Magic Johnson basketball cards, you know one thing’s for sure:
His cards are as sharp-looking as his legendary dazzling passes.
Ervin “Magic” Johnson was one of the most prolific passers the game has ever seen ranking number five on the all-time NBA assists list. But let’s be honest, no one’s passes were as exciting and entertaining as his.
The leader of the infamous “Showtime” Lakers of the ’80s and early ’90s, Johnson played the game with a passion that you rarely see today.
For that reason, his cards are still popular among collectors today.
Appearing on Topps, Hoops, Fleer, Skybox and Upper Deck issues over the years, there are several key Magic Johnson cards that any serious collector should own.
Here is a list of his top cards that you should consider for your collection.
1980 Topps #16 Magic Johnson Rookie Card
When people think of basketball cards this is one that routinely comes to mind. A hobby icon, the 1980 Topps Magic Johnson rookie card has been and will continue to be one of the most valuable basketball cards to collect. The card is divided into three panels with Larry Bird on the left, Dr. J. in the middle and Johnson on the right. Centering and print defects are key challenges for this card and high grade copies are hard to find. Top condition specimens can go for thousands of dollars.
1981 Topps #21
Topps ditched the horizontal, three panel design for a more traditional layout with its 1981 release. That didn’t stop the Magic Johnson card from being as flashy as he was. A great action shot of Johnson splitting a pair of Washington Bullets defenders is complemented by an explosive pink pop out in the lower left with his player and team info. This would be the last year that Topps would produce basketball cards until 1992 so this issue remains very popular with Magic Johnson collectors.
1986 Fleer #53
When it comes to basketball cards, there is likely no more recognizable set than the 1986 Fleer set. Made popular of course by the Michael Jordan rookie card, the set is key to the hobby because it’s the first year since 1982 that a mainstream card manufacturer printed basketball cards. The red, white and blue borders that surround the card are instantly recognizable. Johnson is shown mid-air trying to score against Boston’s Kevin McHale. Or who knows? Maybe he was about to pass at the last second. A key to the set, 1986 Fleer Magic Johnson cards are usually found with centering and chipping issues along the multi-colored borders. Johnson capped off a nice 1985-86 season that year by leading the league in assists with 12.6 per game.
1987 Fleer #56
With a toned down design compared to the year before, Fleer was back at it in 1987. A rather calm shot of Johnson backing down a defender is at the forefront of this card draped by grey top and bottom borders. Not as expensive or popular as his 1986 Fleer card, he is still no doubt a key to the set overall. During the 1986-87 season, Johnson led the league in assists per game (12.2) while setting a career high for points per game (23.9). His performance earned him his first league MVP award that year. And he tacked on an NBA finals MVP award, too, as he helped the Lakers defeat the Celtics.
1988 Fleer #67
The 1988 Fleer basketball design was a step up in creativity with its gradient borders. They give the cards a unique and calm feel overall. Magic is once again shown at the point position ready to break down the opposing defense with his uncanny court awareness and leadership. Reggie Miller and Scottie Pippen were key Hall of Fame rookies in this set but Johnson’s card is also a must have for collectors. The Lakers would win their second NBA Championship in a row during the 1987-88 season and of course Johnson played a huge part.
1989 Fleer #77
I’ll never forget this card as it was one of the first Magic Johnson cards that I owned as a kid. I always liked how Fleer placed the free throw percentage leader callout in the lower left of this card. Just thought it was a nice way to spot some quick info on him without turning the card over. Johnson is once again shown at the point, fingers in the air calling out a play for his teammates. The purple borders give this card some nice appeal overall but centering can be a common issue.
1989 Hoops #270
I really enjoyed the 1989 Hoops basketball set as it came out right in the prime of my childhood collecting days. Johnson’s card is as sharp-looking as any in the set with its archway design and purple borders were a great choice in my opinion. It made for a great entrance for Hoops into the hobby as its latest basketball card manufacturer that year. It’s also an important card because it helped Johnson celebrate his second MVP award that he picked up during the 1988-89 season.
1990 Fleer #93
In 1990, Fleer came out with a fairly straightforward and conservative design compared to previous years. Johnson’s card shows him driving hard to the bucket around an opposing defender on one of their more aggressive shots of him. Centering can be a tough challenge for these cards. Johnson had another outstanding season during 1989-90, earning his third MVP award.
1990 Hoops #157
Hoops gave their 1990 Magic Johnson card a very nice touch with the addition of their MVP yellow box popout in the upper right corner. The company again went with an archway design in the center but this time switched to grey borders. Compared to their card from the year before, I’d have to say I prefer this one in terms of design.
1990 Skybox #138
Skybox jumped on the basketball scene in 1990 with a very innovative design that the hobby had not seen up to that point. The computer-generated imagery in the background along with the air streaks trailing off the ball gave it a cool look for the day. I remember kids in the neighborhood going nuts for 1990 Skybox cards.
1991 Fleer #100
The 1990-91 season would be the last time that Johnson would take the court for a while wearing a Lakers uniform. But card manufacturers printed and released cards prior to his announcement that he would retire since he had tested positive for the HIV virus. I remember being devastated by this news as a kid–you hate for anyone to be sick with anything but it hits even harder when it’s one of your heroes. The blue borders were a great design in my opinion but they left the risk of chipping and wear quite high.
1991 Hoops #101
The ‘91 Hoops card shows a very nice image of Johnson slashing to the basket going in for a likely layup. Notice they ditched the archway design that year, though. The design is rather plain overall but I think the action shot of Johnson saves it and keeps things interesting.
1991 Skybox #137
If some of the background imagery that Skybox used in 1990 was weird, things got even weirder in 1991. On the one hand, I love the design because it screams early 90’s. Back in those days everything seemed to feature neon colors or super abstract designs like what you see on Magic’s card here. Overall it’s still a pretty sweet card though and one I definitely remember adding to my collection.
1991 Upper Deck #45
Upper Deck came out with its first basketball cards in 1991 and I remember loving the hardwood border coloration they chose. They brought their quality printing to the hobby that they were known for so finding these cards in top condition was much easier. The 1991-92 season was not the same without Johnson although he did play in the All-Star game that season and was even voted MVP.
1992 Skybox #358
Again, Magic Johnson did not play during the 1991-92 regular season after testing positive for HIV. But prior to the 1992-93 season he announced he was going to attempt a comeback. He ultimately decided not to, but it was too late and companies had already printed his cards for that year. Even though he was still out of the game, I always liked Skybox’s 1992 design. They toned it down a bit and went with a more classical look versus their previous designs.
1992 Stadium Club #32
Stadium Club released borderless cards for their 1992 set design and I think they look great overall. The print quality was high and the images were super sharp. But those colorless borders definitely made chipping and wear a concern. Johnson’s card has great appeal overall as the legendary point guard brings the ball up the court looking for one of his signature passing lanes.
1992 Topps #54
Topps was back in the basketball card business in 1992 and even they were quick to release a Magic Johnson card. You can even see the “Magic Is Back” designation at the bottom of the card which was a nice touch even though he was definitely not back. But, it was a nice gesture on their part and for all they knew at that point, he was coming back. A great action shot of Johnson releasing a mini-hook shot dominates the front of the card.
1992 Upper Deck #32A
It wasn’t my favorite Upper Deck basketball card design but Johnson’s card was definitely fun to look at. The shot of him going up for a layup over an opposing defender brought a ton of action to the card. Even though he didn’t play, his card is still a key to the set as you’d imagine.
1995 Finest #252
After a brief stint as head coach of the Lakers for 5 games at the end of the 1993-94 season and 11 games at the beginning of the 1994-95 season, Johnson re-entered the NBA as a player at 36 years old for the 1995-96 season. He still managed to average nearly 15 points and 7 assists per game that year playing in just 32 games. Magic’s 1995 Finest card is as cool as any in that set, which featured a protective coating that collectors could peel off or leave intact to preserve their quality.
1995 SP #66
I really don’t know what to think of the 1995 Magic Johnson SP card to be honest. It seems like there is too much going on with it. You can’t argue that the image of him going up for a shot over Michael Jordan and Dennis Rodman isn’t cool. But that headshot of him on the right side superimposed over the main image just seems odd and out of place.
1995 Stadium Club #361
The 1995 Stadium Club featured some nice early-mid 90’s touch with their weird comic-style font for Magic’s name at the bottom of the card. A nice big “Magic’s Back” at the bottom of the card added a very nice touch. It was a great way to celebrate Johnson’s return to the game that so many fans had wished would come for years.
1995 Upper Deck #237
The final Magic Johnson card on our list is Upper Deck’s 1995 card #237 which was a huge closeup of Johnson on the bench wearing his warm-up gear. The borderless card is prone to chipping and even though there isn’t much action in the card, I think it was a good design overall. And their “Believe In Magic” phrase along the right side of the card was a great way to commemorate the basketball legend.
Magic Johnson Basketball Cards Wrap-Up
Despite his career being interrupted by the HIV virus, Magic Johnson is a true basketball legend and put up one of the finest careers the game has ever seen. He is an Olympic gold medalist, a five-time NBA champ and a three time NBA Most Valuable Player.
He brought to the game a level of excitement and “showtime” that no one had ever seen before. His passes were dazzling and would seemingly come out of nowhere.
For his accomplishments, he was named to the NBA’s “50 Greatest Players of All-Time” list and was later inducted into the NBA Hall of Fame in 2002.
His card are as collectible as anybody’s from his era although they don’t pack nearly the same value punch as those of Michael Jordan. But collectors willing to chase down the Magic Johnson cards on this list in top condition will have a nice collection on their hands of one of the game’s best ever.
There’s no arguing that Johnson was one of the most exciting players to ever set foot on the hardwood and you can see that impact in his cards. They’re filled with just excitement as he was and are an awesome tribute to his amazing style of play.