If you are a Los Angeles Lakers fan, who was five years old or older on the day of November 7, 1991 your World and everything you loved about it, came to an end.
When Magic Johnson, the face of our beloved Los Angeles Lakers announced to the World that he had the HIV virus, and that he would have to retire from basketball IMMEDIATELY, time stood still and a part of each and every one of us died.
Magic Johnson WAS the Los Angeles Lakers.
He personified “showtime.”
He was fun, and charming, and owned each and every room he stepped in or any court he ever stepped on with his trademark big smile and laugh.
As much as all that, for most of us (especially a young boy like me who was all of 7 years old), Magic Johnson was the best damn basketball player we had ever seen.
He was nearly a complete team all in one charismatic, fast break leading 6’9 220 pound package.
He could score, rebound, pass like nobody before, or since, start the break, finish the break, take the game over in the clutch, and he made it all look easier and more stylish than anybody in the history of professional basketball.
By the time the day of November 7, 1991 had come around, Earvin “Magic” Johnson had lead the Lakers to 5 NBA titles, had won 3 NBA MVP awards AND 3 NBA Finals MVP awards, and had been one of 2 center pieces (along with Larry Bird) in a decade long rivalry with the Boston Celtic that had saved a National Basketball Association that had been on the verge of failing completely before the respective arrivals of himself and Larry Bird onto the NBA scene.
Forget what you heard; Michael Jordan did not “save” basketball. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird “saved” basketball while Jordan was a part of a Phil Jackson-less Bulls team that had yet to find it’s way on the NBA landscape.
The fact that Magic Johnson is now the face of the HIV and AIDS viruses is both significant and TRAGIC.
Significant in a way that, before Magic Johnson’s press conference on November 7, 1991, most people knew very little about the HIV or AIDS virus. To myself, and virtually everybody else, if you had the HIV or AIDS virus in 1991, you were a dead man walking. I have read articles where several writers talked about the day of November 7, 1991 being the first time they had ever seen reporters crying at a press conference. They were crying because to them, they were about to watch the man that had made them smile, laugh, cheer, put them on the edge of their seats, deliver for his team and sport time and time again, and make them all simply feel better about themselves and their lives, die. And their was nothing they could do about it.
As it turns out, the tragedy of it was NOT that we had to lose that incredibly charismatic man who had given us all so much to feel good about shortly after that early November day. 20 years after that day, and that incredible athlete that we all watched dominate the 1980’s wth a flair, ease, eligance, and showmanship the likes of which we had never seen before is still a physically fit specimen who looks as if he could go out and compete in today’s NBA. The only tragedy is that those who were born after November 7, 1991 never got to see Magic Johnson dominate a basketball game he way he once did. They never saw him grab a rebound, split between two defenders on the way up the court, fake to one side fooling every member of the opposition and then hit a slashing James Worty with a perfect behind the back pass for a dunk. They didn’t see Magic and Larry go at it and be the faces of all of basketball, dominate the way that they did because they just wanted it more than ANYBODY else, and save an NBA for the likes of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James to grab the reigns of today. They didn’t see that smile, hear that laugh, or see a player care more about his teammates, or about winning.
For better, or for worse, Magic Johnson was the face of the NBA and is the face of the HIV and AIDS viruses. And Magic has handled everything that comes along with that responsibility with the kind of grace, elegance, charisma, and showmanship that a lesser person would have NEVER been able to.
Magic Johnson didn’t just save the NBA. He has saved lives and gotten the word out there about a disease that an estimated 33 million people currently carry today with the kind of charisma and work ethic that made us all fall in love with him in the first place.
Thanks Magic! I have ZERO doubt that you will be around another 20 years. Making us smile, making us laugh, and educating each and every one of us.