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Earvin “Magic” Johnson: Daily Routine

On Daily Routines, we profile successful leaders, entrepreneurs, artists, executives and athletes to explore their routines, schedules, habits and day in the life.

Magic Johnson has had a strong work ethic for most of his life. Before he was a Hall of Famer. Before he was a part of five championship teams. Before he won the Most Valuable Player award and Finals MVP Award three times each. Before all that, Johnson helped his father haul trash in Lansing, Michigan.

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“My job was to get the loose trash, and he would get barrels,” Johnson said during a speaking event. “One day, it was 17 degrees below zero. It was really cold, and as a young kid I couldn’t stand it. So I ran out of the truck, picked up some of the trash, then ran back in.”

Johnson recalls his father saying to him, “there’s trash stuck in the ice, son. If you do your life half way, that’s how you’ll practice basketball, that’s how you’ll do your homework—you’ll always be a person who doesn’t finish the job.”

“That just stung me to get out of the truck, pick up my shovel, and chop the ice around the barrel until I’d picked up all of the trash,” he says. “That day, that moment, changed my life. From that point on I did everything the right way, and I became a perfectionist.”

Johnson would take his father’s advice to heart into his basketball career. During his high school days, John was focused on mastering his craft — “I dribbled to the store with my right hand and back with my left. Then I slept with my basketball,” he told USA Weekend.

When he joined the Los Angeles Lakers in 1979 as a rookie, the team hadn’t won a championship in 22 years. Eager to make his mark on the team, Johnson showed up two hours early for his first day of practice, then three hours early after that. Inspired by Johnson’s work ethic, his coach made every player on the team show up for practice at least two hours early. The extra hours paid off — the LA Lakers won the championship that year.

“I wanted them to see and understand that I was there to win,” Johnson said. ”They hated me. But let me tell you what happened, it changed the culture. Everything changed, guys start getting there early and guess what happens—we won the championship that year. As a leader, you must understand what you need to do to put your company, and your staff, in a winning position.”

Magic Johnson playing against longtime rival, Larry Bird. Photo Credit: Andrew D. Bernstein, NBAE/Getty.

Magic Johnson’s NBA training routine & diet

During a brief hiatus from the NBA in the early ’90s, Johnson spent three years training with former NBA player Lester Conner and bodybuilder Marchell Henry to focus on adding strength and muscle mass to his physique.

In an interview with AP News, Henry described Johnson’s typical gym workout routine, which consisted of “four sets for each exercise, with 12 repetitions in the first set, 10 in the next, eight in the third and six to eight in the last.”

Here’s what an example chest day routine looked like:

  • Bench press: 135 pounds in the first set, followed by 185, 205 and finally 225 pounds.
  • Dumbbell incline: 65 pounds, 70, 75-80, 85.
  • Cable cross: Four sets of varying weight.
  • Flys using a machine: Four sets of varying weight.

Once he officially returned to the NBA as a player in 1996, Johnson continued his weightlifting routine in addition to his basketball workouts. A 1996 AP News article described a typical daily training routine for Johnson:

To get ready for the NBA grind, Johnson’s daily routine included an hour’s morning workout with weights, followed by two hours on the basketball court and up to 700 situps daily _ not to mention games with his touring team and the occasional 3 1/2-mile jog.

Magic’s ‘New’ Physique Was Years in Making | AP News

Johnson’s basketball workouts also included shooting 150 free-throws, 50 left hooks, 50 right hooks — followed by afternoon naps which were crucial for him to get enough recovery.

When it came to his diet, Johnson started making changes to his lifestyle as he got older. “I knew I was heading toward 30 and I needed a change,” Johnson said in an interview with The Los Angeles Times. “So at the start of the off-season I said, ‘From now on I’ll eat twice a day, eat a lot of chicken and fish, a lot of fruit.’”

He also had to cut out a lot of his favourite treats, including cookies, pizzas, popcorn, and nachos — “I’d watch TV at night in bed, I’d have to have my nachos. No more nachos. That hurt me, really hurt me. I’m a snack man. I love nachos. I’d have nachos 5 nights out of 7, at least.”

After making the dietary changes, Johnson felt the effects right away. “I saw the difference right away, yeah, when I got to camp. I’m gliding, just running all day, making moves, cuts, everything. It’s a big difference, a big, big change,” he told the LA Times.

Magic Johnson’s Post-NBA daily routine

These days, at 61 years old, Johnson still has the same relentless work ethic that helped him become one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

According to an interview with CNBC Make It, the former Lakers player wakes up between 4-4:30am every morning. “Sometimes I’ll grab a banana on my way to the gym. After a workout I have a protein shake and oatmeal. That never changes,” he told Furthermore. Waking up early gives him half an hour to prepare for the day ahead, as well as get in a two hour workout session, which includes a 5-mile power walk with his wife, five days a week.

I want to feel a certain way, I want to look a certain way and I want to be able to stay young. When you take care of your body and your mind, no matter what your age, you stay young.

Q&A with Magic Johnson | Furthermore

At work, he runs his company, Magic Johnson Enterprises, which has invested in the Los Angeles Lakers, movie theatres and restaurants over the years, with a particular focus on urban neighbourhoods. At the end of his workday, Johnson walks home from his office, where he continues to do more work until 9pm. In an interview with Newsweek, he said he used to work until 10-11pm but his wife put an end to that — “when I work, I’m on. I’m ‘Magic.’ I love it, but it takes a lot out of me.”

I love to win, so when I got to the Lakers, I wasn’t going to change for anyone. Now with my company, I’m the same guy. I wake up every morning at four o’clock. I’m in the gym by five—hour of cardio, hour of weights, and then I’m in the office all day. So my staff sees me, and I’m willing to get my hands dirty. They follow my lead. And we don’t leave the office until our work is done. That’s how I am, and that’s how they will be. I give them five minutes to celebrate a victory, and then I say, ‘What’s next?’ and we get right back on—because in this marketplace today, it’s not enough for you to just deliver anymore. You have to over-deliver.

Magic Johnson is such a perfectionist that he’d crush his own mom in basketball. Would you? | Quartz at Work

Before you go…

Check out more daily routines from Barack Obama, Joe Rogan, Jeff Bezos, Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg, Richard Branson, Warren Buffet and plenty others.

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Balance The Grind gives me a platform to talk to these people about how they're achieving their ideal lifestyle. I'm inspired by the passion, the work ethic, the hustle; and these conversations motivate me to live life the way I want to live it.