November 07, 2006

Believing in Magic, for Old Time's Sake

To this day, I remember vividly where I was on the afternoon of November 7, 1991: Standing in my kitchen in Atlanta, taking a phone call from a nerdy kid from school named Charlie who had what was then the closest thing to what we now know as the Internet (Prodigy – remember that?), which he had used to discover a stunning fact, which he in turn relayed to me:

Magic Johnson had been infected with the AIDS virus.

I remember being stunned to say the least. I hadn’t been the world’s hugest Magic fan – that wouldn’t come until a few years later when I came into possession of a spectacular documentary video called Magic Johnson – Always Showtime, narrated brilliantly and hilariously by none other than Danny Glover – but I still knew Magic as a basketball immortal, and the news that he had AIDS suddenly meant that he was immortal no more.

And like that, he was gone.

Not forever, though. There was his triumphant return in the 1992 All-Star Game, where he won the MVP Award against an Eastern Conference squad that may or may not have been giving him open shots to make him look good (sorry, hard not to be cynical about that game even if it was great to watch).

Then in 1995-96, there was the strange, surreal Magic-as-power-forward experiment, which I remember finding wildly exciting even if the rest of the hoops world might have thought the whole thing to be a little bit sad; an old legend putting a fresh coat of dust onto his legacy.

Magic was admittedly too big, and nothing resembling what he had been when he had last played in the NBA, but there were still some moments to remember, perhaps most notably a spectacular old school ball fake and drive to the basket combo (I believe against Golden State) – a move so outdated that it seemed to even pre-date Magic’s prime years, as if he had reached into some far-flung and unknown basketball era in the past to discover it. Yet somehow the move worked, leaving a defender grasping at thin air and bringing at least one basketball fan to his feet right there on the spot.

So on this, the 15th anniversary of one of the most shocking days in pro sports history, if you do nothing else, take a minute to think about Magic in all his glory, running – no, inventing – Showtime in L.A.

And if you’re feeling really ambitious, hop on the Internet (or Prodigy, if you prefer) and pick up a copy of Magic Johnson – Always Showtime, pop it in and let the soothing sounds of Danny Glover’s voice combined with the sight of dribble moves, court vision and creativity beyond compare carry you back to a time and place you’d be crazy not to appreciate.


Anonymous Aimee Berg said...

I remember hearing about Magic on the radio while my mom was driving me to a tennis lesson. Once I got on the court, the tennis pros gathered all of us around (there were probably 30-40 kids there) to talk about it before we started playing.

But the main memory I have is coming into school the next day (I was in 7th grade) and finding that my teacher had written several thoughts and poems on the board, including Housman's "To An Athlete Dying Young."

Well, here we are, 15 years later, and Magic is still not only alive but apparently thriving in middle age.

8:06 AM, November 09, 2006  

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