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how to get in the zone
by jane dode

Earvin “Magic” Johnson was an incredible basketball player, who possessed great skills and produced incredible results in the game. His biography, Magic (1), was perhaps one of my favorite biographies that I have read. Not only is this story of his life captivating, but it also full of great truths, for any individual who wants to become successful in his or her passion and purpose in life.

As I read his story, I began to understand how there are different elements of the key factors. These elements in these key factors may often operate differently, according to the particular athlete and sport he or she is playing. In this chapter, we will look at some of the key elements, to the key factors, which helped earn him the nickname, “Magic.”

Key Factor #1: Passion and Purpose

It seems that some of the athletes in this book had more than one passion during his or her childhood. However, the most successful individuals were those wise enough to discover and pursue his or her true purpose early in his or her life. An individual will usually discover his or her true purpose, when he or she is humble enough to receive the advice from his or her parents or mentor, during his or her childhood. There is usually a parental figure or mentor, who is involved in his or her life in some way. These parents or mentors seem to have the discernment to notice the unique gifting endowed to this child, which is often indicated by the child’s passion.

Earvin “Magic” Johnson grew up in an area of Michigan known for its community’s focus for the need of providing many organized activities for children. He can recall when he and his friends grew up playing football, baseball, kickball, basketball, and so on. However, when he reached the end of his elementary education, he and others around him noticed that he possessed an unusual ability to play basketball. In his autobiography, he states that when he was in fourth grade, “I began to realize how much better I was than everybody else my age. I also discovered how much I love to win” (1).

“Magic” had a love and passion for music as well as basketball. Therefore, Earvin had to choose wisely where he should invest his time and energy. Fortunately, for all basketball fans, he chose to invest his time in his passion for basketball. This is evident by the amount of time he invested in playing and practicing the game throughout his childhood. He recalls that he would play from sunup to sundown during the summer months. During the winter months, he was so committed to playing basketball on the outside playground court that he would shovel the snow from the court, in order to play and practice there (1).

This passion for the game never left him throughout his playing career. He was committed and humble enough to know that there was always room for improvement. “Magic” stated that his drive for being a better basketball player was because he believed he could never be good enough (1). He states this drive to be better may have been because of his low self-esteem. However, I believe that this drive was due was to his positive and humble attitude and character. These attributes in turn made him teachable, and work harder than other individual’s in the game.

Key Factor #2: Humble and Teachable

If there was ever there was ever an athlete who displayed a humble and teachable heart and attitude, it was “Magic” Johnson. In fact, this attitude was not only one of the major reasons for his success, but was also a key factor for his team’s accomplishments. He did whatever was necessary to win, and would play whatever role or position on the team which was necessary, in order to produce success for his team.

Throughout his life playing basketball he was always open to correction, and made the necessary changes in order for his team to win. “Magic” was a gifted and phenomenonal player, as soon as he started playing in organized leagues. Unlike most individuals, he did not let success, or the praise of people, fill him with pride. He always remained grounded, humble, and teachable. This is evident by his willingness to allow his mentors and coaches to impart wisdom and correction to him throughout his career in basketball.

One significant choice, that he had to make early in his college life, was just after his freshman year at Michigan State University (MSU). He had already impressed the professional scouts enough to have NBA teams offer him contracts for significant amounts of money to play professional basketball. Imagine being in his shoes and being offered millions of dollars to leave school, to play professional basketball. Then consider he lived his whole life in what was far from the “luxurious life.”

Due to the advice of his mentor and family, and the humility to listen and obey, “Magic” turned down the opportunity to play in the NBA after his freshman year at MSU. He continued with his education at Michigan State University, and passed up the temptation of playing professional basketball. Basketball owners often tempt young and promising athletes by baiting him or her with large financial contracts. However, many of these athletes fall for the bait before he or she is mentally and emotionally prepared for the life that comes with playing on the highest level of sports.

Today, how many college athletes do you think would deny this offer made to “Magic?” Also, imagine a professional athletic recruiter handing you a million dollar contract and asking, “Do you want to join us?” “Magic” states, “Recruiters offered cash and cars under the table. He stated they would ask him, “What do you want,” and his reply was, “Nothing” (1).

One of the reasons, that he may have chose to stay at MSU another year, was that he was wise enough to realize that he was not mentally or emotionally ready to play in the NBA. Later, he would state, the single most important transition from college ball to profession basketball is “mental” (1). After his sophomore year at MSU he was faced with the choice again to go professional or stay at MSU.

This was a very difficult decision for “Magic” considering that he led MSU to a NCAA basketball championship as a sophomore, and most of the community begged him to stay another year. Again, he weighed the options and listened to wise counsel. This time his choice was to leave MSU and play professional basketball, which seemed to be another difficult choice for him.

“Magic” realized that it was the proper time to move to the next level. Most individuals don’t realize the importance of timing like “Magic” Johnson. In any field, you may see individuals strive for promotion, before he or she is ready for that step forward, mentally or emotionally. Most often, you see these shooting stars fall as quickly as they shot to the top. This is because he or she was not wise enough to discern it was not his or her time to go forward. On the other hand, others may stay behind, on the same level, due to the fear of entering a higher level with new challenges.

One more point that is significant regarding Magic and his humility was his value and understanding of the team concept. Like most sports and endeavors, working effectively with others will determine your own success. “Magic understood this well and was the ultimate team player.

Key Factor #3: Team player

Earvin “Magic” Johnson is the ultimate example, in this modern day of the selfish, “dog eats dog” mentality. His sacrifices, for the sake of his team, and their success, are unheard of in society today. Most of the players in this book, who played a team sport, had this mentality. It seems that “Magic” Johnson always had a natural instinct for helping others, and supporting his teammates, for the greater good.

From his time he started playing the game of basketball, he had unusual skill, size, and ability for his age. As a freshman in high school, he was already over six feet tall, with great basketball skills. Most individuals with this ability and height advantage tend to dominate the game while neglecting the team concept. “Magic” was different from a young age and stated that he had, “developed a sense of team. You immediately know if something or somebody is out of line” (1). This team concept is something that he carried with him throughout his career.

One of the greatest accomplishments that “Magic” Johnson is recognized for is his role in the LA Lakers championship, under his leadership. The all-time great center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had an unexpected injury at the most inopportune time in the playoffs. The coach of the Lakers asked Magic to play center in his place. “Magic” thought that his coach was joking at first, because he was playing as a guard since college. However, the coach was serious and Magic had to take on a role he never played since high school.

“Magic” put on a quite the display at the center position, which can only be described as amazing. This is just one unselfish example, in the name of teamwork, which displayed throughout his whole playing career. He placed the team’s needs before his own and did what was necessary for the Lakers to win the NBA championship during his second year in the NBA and was voted MVP. The famous Lakers coach, Pat Riley said, “Magic has taken upon himself to give the team what it needs. His impact on a game is incredible” (1).

Key Factor #4: Mentors, Teachers and Role Models

Earvin “Magic” Johnson was truly blessed by the fact that he had two good Christian parents to help raise and support him through his childhood and career. It is evident that he learned many things from both his mother and father, while growing up as a child, which helped him throughout his life and playing career.
One thing that he learned from his father was a strong work ethic. His father worked very hard at the General Motors assembly plant in Flint, Michigan in order to support his family. His mother also worked hard at being a good Christian role model and setting a high standard of morality (1).

This work ethic and morality were characteristics that Earvin incorporated into his life, while playing basketball. This is evident in the fact that he always practiced very hard, even from his childhood. Also, his morality is seen in the choice not to go to the NBA and make “big money,” before he may have been ready mentally or emotionally.

It was his father who first noticed that “Magic” had a passion and gift for basketball in elementary school. “Magic” states that his father encouraged him to pursue his passion but did not put undo pressure on him to do so (1). His father loved basketball and helped his son build a strong foundation in the game, by teaching at practicing basketball with him frequently. His father remained a great source of support and counsel for his son throughout his childhood and professional career.

Earvin only speaks with the utmost respect for his mother, and the example that she had set for him. He states that she possessed, “strength, wisdom, character and resourcefulness. My mother was always consistent. If she said she was going to do something, she did it” (1).

The other most notable influence in “Magic’s” life is the man, Dr. Charles Tucker. It was when he was in ninth-grade did he first meet this man who would be a great teacher, role-model, and mentor throughout the rest of “Magic’s” playing career in basketball (1).

This man was a psychologist who was employed at the school “Magic attended.” He was also a semi professional basketball player earlier in his life. “Magic” stated that Dr. Tucker was a, “streetwise, gym-wise black; he had a firm grip on the community and the game of basketball” (1). This man took “Magic” under his wing and helped build on the foundation set by his father in basketball.

One of the most important things that Dr. Tucker taught “Magic” was the mental side of the game. According to “Magic,” Dr. Tucker knew the game of basketball “as well as anyone I’ve met” (1). Not only did Dr. Tucker teach Earvin the vast knowledge that he gained about the game of basketball, but he also helped “Magic” put this knowledge to practical use. He did this by playing one-on-one basketball against “Magic” on a regular basis.

The first time that he played “Magic” one-on-one in basketball he may have tricked him, in order to humble this rising young star. Already, as a freshman, “Magic” was receiving considerable attention from others because of his extraordinary ability. In front of a few of Magic’s friends, Dr. Tucker beat Magic soundly during their first game against each other. “Magic” admits that he was humiliated but accepted the offer of Dr. Tucker to play again (1). I believe that Dr. Tucker helped teach “Magic” an early lesson in humility and kept him grounded.

I also believe that Dr Tucker helped “Magic” in what is now commonly called, “emotional intelligence.” Emotional intelligence involves the ability to harness your emotions in a manner that produces positive results. Many studies today show that having a high EQ score (for emotional intelligence) is a better indicator of an individual being successful than if he or she had a higher IQ (2).

In the book, Working with Emotional Intelligence, author Daniel Goleman states, “Star performers stand out not only by personal achievement but by their capacity to work well on teams and with people. Those who are isolated or explosive-unable to manage change or conflict-can be toxic to the entire organization” (2).

Through the early emotional turmoil of this basketball star in the making, Dr. Tucker helped “Magic” deal with his emotions. This helped develop his EQ, which transferred into great individual and team performances throughout “Magic’s” career.

Key factor #5: Vision and Visualization

From his early childhood, “Magic” had the vision of one day becoming a professional basketball player. He nurtured that vision throughout his childhood, often lying on his bed dreaming and envisioning who he would become and how he would play in the game of basketball. He would tell his parents that there would be a day when they would never have to work again because of what he envisioned for himself as a player in professional basketball (1).

The other kind of vision “Magic” possessed came from studying other players on tape. He would then envision how he would successfully play against his opponents. He stated that he would not only study player’s techniques but also, “Play them over and over in my mind at night” (1). He would then transfer this vision into a reality on the basketball court against his opponents. He made the game look so effortless. He was very graceful and instinctive, while playing professional basketball throughout his career. I believe that much of this has to do with the fact that he saw the end result before playing the actual game, through the visualization techniques he used.

I could have written more about other key factors that contributed to “Magic’s” success. However, these key factors are the same ones as the other athletes in this book, and that would be redundant. For instance, he had passion for the game of basketball from his early childhood. This passion transferred into hard work, determination and focus.
Magic had mentors, coaches, and teachers that I did not mention, who helped him in his journey to “the zone.” He also learned valuable lessons from studying how other great basketball players produced positive results. He took these lessons and added his own personal and creative style of play in the game.

The records bear witness of his ability to “get and stay in the zone.” “Magic” Johnson was elected to Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (2002); he won the NBA championships in 1980, '82, '85, '87, '88; he was the NBA Finals MVP in 1980, '82, '87; he was the NBA MVP in 1987, '89, '90); he was a nine-time All-NBA First Team (1983-91); he played in the All-Star game 12-times and was the All-star MVP (1990, '92); he is a Olympic gold medalist (1992); He has been voted as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History (1996) (3).

(1) Johnson, E. & Levin R. (1983). Magic. New York, NY: The Viking Press.
(2) Goleman, D. (1998). Working with Emotional Intelligence. 1540 Broadway, New York, NY: Bantum Books.
(3) Author unknown (2009). NBA Media Ventures, LLC. Retrieved from the


I have two books published which are based on my fascination, education, and experience in the world of psychology. I teach psychology at the University of Phoenix and I have had over 20 years experience counseling young and old people in different settings. One of my books is under an anonymous name because I reveal the deep dark secrets of the locked down acute care mental hospitals I worked at. This is my favorite book because of the variety of humor, fright and sad stories as well as the unknown politics of the mental health system. My other book How to Get in Zone was based on my personal search of what it really meant and how to get in the zone. I studied and read the biographies of th

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