Earvin Johnson Jr. was born to Earvin Sr., a General Motors assembly worker, and Christine, a school custodian. Johnson grew up in Lansing, Michigan, and came to love basketball as a youngster, idolizing players such as Earl Monroe and Marques Haynes, and practicing "all day".
Johnson was first dubbed "Magic" as a 15-year-old sophomore playing for Lansing's Everett High School, when he recorded a triple-double of 36 points, 18 rebounds and 16 assists. After the game, Fred Stabley Jr., a sports writer for the Lansing State Journal, gave him the moniker despite the belief of Johnson's mother, a Christian, that the name was sacrilegious. In his final high school season, Johnson led Lansing Everett to a 27–1 win–loss record while averaging 28.8 points and 16.8 rebounds per game, and took his team to an overtime victory in the state championship game.