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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Magic Johnson: In My Own Words

Fox Sports recently broadcast "Magic Johnson: In My Own Words," a half hour show during which Magic reflected on subjects ranging from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Chick Hearn to the fateful day when he announced that he would have to retire from the NBA due to testing positive for HIV. There are a lot of obvious reasons that Magic Johnson was a great basketball player: size, ball handling ability, court vision, killer instinct, work ethic. Listening to him talk about his life and career, though, another reason for his success is very evident: his great love for the game of basketball and the sense of joy that he felt and conveyed to others. Magic almost falls out of his chair with excitement when he describes what he learned from Jabbar about focus and preparation and how much he loved passing the ball to Worthy on the fast break. Jabbar was a great player long before Magic entered the NBA but he seemed dour, aloof and devoid of joy. The story is often told that when Jabbar hit the game winning shot in Magic's first NBA game that Magic ran over to him and started hugging him like they had just won the NBA championship. Jabbar coolly responded by saying that there were 81 more games to go--to which Magic replied that if Jabbar did that 81 more times than Magic would hug him each time. There is no doubt that Kareem had a valid point about the necessity of maintaining an even keel during the marathon NBA season but it soon became apparent that Magic's sheer joy had an even greater impact on Jabbar. Who can forget that just a few years after that Jabbar was running up and down the court giving high fives to Magic and the other Lakers? It was like Jabbar had undergone a personality transplant--or found the Fountain of Youth. Jabbar had always been a technically proficient player but Magic reached Jabbar's inner child.

During the show, Magic said that he would choose Jabbar to shoot a big fourth quarter shot over any player in basketball history; in case the viewer had looked away or misunderstood, he repeated the statement again, emphasizing that he would take Jabbar over any player, regardless of position, in basketball history. Take that, Michael Jordan! Magic added that Jabbar's Skyhook was the prettiest--and deadliest--shot ever.

Magic said that when he passed the ball to James Worthy he often shook his head because he knew that the defender--whether it was Kevin McHale, Larry Bird, Scottie Pippen or anybody else--was in trouble. Magic liked how Worthy came up biggest in the biggest games but never sought out credit or publicity.

Magic is a student of the history of the game and enjoyed the long conversations that he had with the legendary announcer Chick Hearn, who regaled Magic with tales of the exploits of Elgin Baylor, Jerry West and Wilt Chamberlain.

The day that Magic retired from the NBA after testing positive for HIV is both the toughest and the greatest day of his life. He feels tremendous gratitude for the outpouring of support that he received from teammates, fans and Lakers owner Jerry Buss, who paid Magic's salary and made him a part owner of the team.

Magic's favorite moment from his NBA career is clinching the 1985 NBA championship in game six in the Boston Garden. The Lakers recovered from the Celtics' "Memorial Day Massacre" 148-114 win in game one and Jabbar had a performance for the ages in the rest of the series.

posted by David Friedman @ 6:31 AM



At Wednesday, November 08, 2006 4:25:00 PM, Blogger vednam said...

Yeah, Magic's energy and enthusiasm for the game really set him apart.

One part of his career which a lot of people overlook, but which I remember very fondly was the Lakers vs. Bulls series in 1991. You can't really tell it from the numbers, but I was really impressed by how much effort Magic was putting out there. The Lakers as a whole looked injured, slow, and tired. There was no fast break, and it seemed like every offensive posession Magic had to exert an incredible amount of energy backing his man down, spinning out of double teams, etc. to get his team a decent shot. Then the Bulls would promptly come back and get a basket putting in about 1/10 of the energy it took the Lakers.

Byron Scott couldn't throw a pea in the ocean during the whole series. James Worthy was playing on a bad ankle, and he couldn't move around like he normally did. Magic couldn't just dump the ball into James and watch him destroy his man; Magic had to work extra hard just to get Worthy a shot. (It was a shame to watch Worthy always settling for jumpers. I remember one play when the Lakers were on a break and Magic got Worthy the ball. There was a Bull player or two between him and the basket. Normally, Worthy would have tomahawk dunked over those guys, but this time he had to try a lay up, and it got swatted away. I remember as a Laker fan just shaking my head.)

Still, even with the Lakers having little left in the defense and hustle departments and with his most potent offensive players injured and ineffective, and the fast break nonexistant, Magic found a way to keep them competetive. It was just a great exhibition. On every posession, he seemed like a quarterback driving his team slowly but surely down the field. The Lakers managed to steal Game 1 and could have easily taken Games 3 and 5 if they had just a little more gas in the tank. I've always wished the Lakers would have been fresh and healthy during that series. It would have been a classic.

Also, I'm glad Magic gave Kareem his due. As I've said before, I think Kareem is underrated. He was very reliable in the clutch, and I think any objective fan should put him up there with West, Jordan, and Bird in that category.


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