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5 American Basketball Rise-to-Fame Stories

Updated on October 30, 2015

Basketball is a game that almost everyone keeps track of no matter where you are in the world. It has always served as a great conversation starter, and more often than not, its players are being looked up to as great influencers in life. Here are five great and inspiring stories of basketball players who rose to fame through the game and may serve as an inspiration to a lot of aspiring athletes.

Magic Johnson

Born Earvin Johnson Jr., Magic Johnson was born in Lansing, Michigan to a school janitor and a General Motors worker. He also comes from a breed of ten and was called “Junior” or “June bug” in his younger years. As a child, Johnson would practice basketball daily at 7:30 in the morning and dribble the ball using opposite hands to achieve great ball control.

Johnson’s rise to fame started in his high school years. When he was a sophomore, he played a great game where he scored 36 points, 16 assists, and 16 rebounds. After that game, a sportswriter named Fred Stably, Jr. gave him the nickname “Magic”. During his senior year in high school, his team won the state championship with the record 25-1, with Johnson averaging 28 points and 16 rebounds per game. Johnson then decided he wanted to stay close to home for college and chose Michigan State University.

College opened doors for Magic Johnson despite only playing for two seasons. In his first year of playing, he led his team to a Big Ten title. In his second year, he led his team to an NCAA championship, defeating the Indiana State University. After college, he decided to go to the NBA and he became the first draft pick of the Los Angeles Lakers.

Professionally, Johnson was drafted to a revamped Lakers team. During his rookie year, he garnered the same statistics as he did in his first year in college and became the very first rookie to start in an All-Star game. He did not win “Rookie of the Year” at the time though since his rival Larry Bird had a better season, but he became the Most Valuable Player in the playoffs and won a championship in his rookie year.

In the 1980s, Johnson became one of the most beloved players in the NBA. As part of the original dream team, he won five championships and a gold medal in the Olympics. In between some of his team’s championships however, he had undergone some struggles between his team and the Boston Celtics led by Bird.

Things changed for him when it was confirmed that he had just discovered that he was HIV positive. He had to retire in 1991. He fought hard to come back to the NBA—first as a player, then as a coach, and now team owner and vice president.

Now Johnson is a prominent business figure with a net worth of 900 million dollars. He saved all his money from his rookie year and NBA sponsorships and advertisements. He put up Magic Johnson Enterprises and invested in Starbucks franchises.

Julius Erving

The great “Dr. J”, as he was known, was one of the most respected and dominant players during his time in the NBA. Born Julius Winfield Erving II in February 22, 1950 in Roosevelt, New York, he starred for the Roosevelt High School but not really as a spectacular player. For college, he enrolled in the University of Massachusetts and averaged 26.3 points and 20.2 rebounds over two varsity seasons. After leaving college, he then went on to sign as an undergraduate free agent in the American Basketball Association’s Virginia Squires. Erving scored an average of 27.3 points per game as a rookie in the ABA and made the ABA All-Rookie Team.

Upon graduating from college, Erving was picked by the Milwaukee Bucks as the 12th pick overall in the NBA Draft of 1972. However, instead of playing for the Bucks, he attempted to jump to the Atlanta Hawks instead and was legally barred to play due to court injunctions initiated by the Squires. A court order then forced his return to Virginia for the ABA.

Erving started to gain recognition in the ABA after garnering a career-best 31.9 points per game. Prior to the 1973 season, the Squires traded Erving to the New York Nets. He dominated the games as a small forward and picked up the first of three consecutive ABA Most Valuable Player awards. In Erving’s five ABA seasons, he won two championships, three MVP trophies, and three scoring titles.

Due to the inability of the nets to pay Erving the negotiated salary, they sold him to the Philadelphia 76ers for $3 million twenty-four hours before the start of the season. In the NBA, Erving became a prominent player that an entire team was to be built around him and not the other way around. Due to his game statistics, he was playing at a higher level than the rest of the league.

Erving made the “Baseline Move” during Game 4 of the NBA Finals against the Los Angeles Lakers which eventually made it as one of the most spectacular shots in NBA history.

Erving retired at age 37, having garnered more than 30,000 points in his combined ABA and NBA career. He was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1993. After retirement, he pursued a successful career in business.

Michael Jordan

Probably one of the most popular names in basketball history, Michael Jordan was born in New York City. He was responsible for making the NBA famous in the ’80s and ’90s. In high school, he was not allowed to play basketball despite his interest due to his height. In a few months, he shot up from 5’11” to 6’3”. The University of North Carolina then offered him a basketball scholarship because of his impressive school records. In the 1982 NCAA Championship game, Jordan made the winning jump shot, which he considers to be the turning point in his career.

Jordan started his professional basketball career in 1984 when he signed with the Chicago Bulls. He led the team to basketball championships from 1991 to 1993 and was then considered to be the best basketball player around. He created a signature move where he would dunk from the free throw line. This inspired the nickname “Air Jordan” which also became the inspiration of a collection of shoes that just about everyone wants these days.

He took a leave from basketball in 1993 because of the loss of his father and tried his luck in baseball. He joined back the NBA in 1995 where he won the championships from 1996 to 1998. He took a leave again in 1999 before returning in 2001 with the Washington Wizards where he played until 2003.

Dirk Nowitzki

Dirk Nowitzki is a German basketball player who currently plays for the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA. He was chosen as the 9th pick by the Milwaukee Bucks in the 1998 NBA Draft but was quickly traded to the Dallas Mavericks where he has been playing ever since. Nowitzki has then gained a reputation as one of the greatest players in basketball history as a power forward.

Nowitzki comes from an athletic family – his mother was a professional basketball player, his father a handball player, and his sister a local champion in track and field who eventually became a basketball player as well. He joined the DJK Wurzburg as a kid and got scouted by an international basketball player, Holger Gerschwinder, who immediately offered to coach him individually. He then became a team member of the DJK Wurzburg and impressed a multitude of European and NBA clubs who wanted to recruit him.

Nowitzki passed up many college offers and went straight to the NBA. At the time, the head coaches of both the Boston Celtics and the Dallas Mavericks were very much interested in acquiring him. When the season started, Nowitzki struggled as a power forward, intimidated by other players who were more athletic than he was. Initially, he averaged only 8.2 points and 3.4 rebounds in 20.4 minutes of playing time. He eventually improved his averages in the following seasons, leading his team to the NBA Playoffs.

He is a 12-time All-Star, a 12-time All-NBA Team member, and the first European member to start in an All-Star game. He was also the first European to receive the NBA Most Valuable Player award in 2007. In 2011, he was named the 2011 German Sports Personality of the Year, and in 2012 became the first non-American player to receive the Naismith Legacy Award.

Jeremy Lin

Jeremy Lin is an Asian-American basketball player who was born and raised in California. As a child, he had always loved playing basketball. He led his high school team in Palo Alto to a state championship. Despite that, no college team offered him a basketball scholarship. He then ended up playing at Harvard, a school more popularly known for its academic achievements where he broke Ivy League basketball records. And even so, no NBA team drafted him. Getting in the professional league was quite a struggle for Lin.

Lin signed a two-year deal with the Warriors despite having higher counteroffers from other teams. In 2011, he played a few games for the Chinese Basketball Association club Dongguan Leopards in Guangzhou, China where he emerged as MVP of the tournament. In late 2011, the New York Knicks claimed Lin who then led them to a winning turnaround in the 2012 season of the NBA. He then generated a global phenomenon which is known as “Linsanity”.

During the 2010 NBA Draft, no team wanted Lin so he was undrafted. Because of his perseverance, he joined the Dallas Mavericks for a mini-camp and their NBA Summer League team in Las Vegas. Donnie Nelson, general manager of the Mavericks, was the one who extended an invitation to Lin to play in the Summer League. He proved himself worthy during the Summer League, playing both guard positions. He eventually got offered spots in the Mavericks, Los Angeles Lakers, Golden State Warriors, and an unnamed Eastern Conference team.

In 2012, he signed with the Houston Rockets, and in 2014 he was acquired by the Lakers. He is now the point guard of the team.

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