The Magic is Back!
It has been announced that Magic Johnson is now an official Lakers advisor. Considering the fact that the recent Lakers organization has been so unsuccessful, it makes you wonder what took them so long.
Magic Johnson knows what it takes to produce winning basketball teams. It is who he is and what he does.
I ﬁrst became aware of him in 1979. He was a big basketball star at Michigan State University. In addition to him, there was also Larry Bird, who was a star at unbeaten Indiana State University. Finally, these two individuals and their teams would meet in a nationally televised showdown. Every sports fan in the country wanted to see this game, and I was one of those who actually saw it.
The amazing thing to me at that time was that Magic Johnson was not what I expected. Typically, the most celebrated basketball stars, are the ones who score the most points. Think Seth Curry and LeBron James. Bird was a great scorer and a tenacious player. So, they ﬁnally met in the basketball duel of the century.
It was fascinating to watch Magic and Larry. Magic’s approach to the game was to pass the ball to one of his teammate who was in the best position to score. The surprise to us watchers was that he did not seem that interested in scoring himself, and usually only did so as a last resort. He introduced us to the alley oop pass, which allowed teammate Greg Kelser to score easily and often.
Indiana State was not a team of shrinking violets. They played well and they played hard. Larry Bird was even better than advertised, as he was an excellent shooter, passer and defender. However, Michigan State won the game, that the ﬁrst of the many championships that Magic would win.
The Lakers had the ﬁrst pick in the NBA Draft the year 1979, and or course they picked Magic Johnson. This was not a surprise as the then owner, Jack Kent Cooke, was thrilled to get him into one of his purple and gold uniforms.
The signing of Magic’s ﬁrst NBA contract was televised from the Forum. The Los Angeles public was introduced to this charming, confident, smiling 19-year-old rookie. His ﬁ rst year contract was for $500,000.00, which was considered to be an enormous sum money for a rookie in 1979.
Although Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was on the team. The previous year had been a disaster for the Lakers. One of the reporters asked Magic, “How many years you think it will take before the Lakers become a winning franchise?” Magic’s smile just widened and he replied, “It’s winnin’ time right now” he said. Then he added “I can hardly wait to get started, I wish we could play right now.”
Most of the people in Los Angeles at that time sincerely believed that it would take at least three years for the Lakers to become competitive. However, there was one person who felt that they could win the championship following year, that was Magic Johnson. His Lakers defeated the Philadelphia Seventy Sixers, led by Julius “Doctor J” to win the 1980 NBA Championship.
Even while he was busy playing in the NBA. The Magic man found the time to stage yearly basketball charity events. He always tried to help everyone who needed it. Doctor J, who was a huge star in his own right, came out to play in one of Magic’s charity basketball games.
Then, for several years, Lakers fans had the best seats in the world of sports. Every night they had the privilege of watching the no look passes, the showtime streaks, and the coop a loops. And all the while, there was this Magic Smile.
As it turned out, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird spent most of their careers in vicious competition with each other. Theirs was a serious rivalry, and it is safe to say that they were not on good terms. However, as the years passed, they got to know each other and a close friendship developed. When Larry learned that Magic would have to retire from the NBA, he ﬂew out from Boston to lend his emotional support.
Before Magic came, most of the NBA stars kept themselves aloof from the fans. They treated themselves as if they were royalty, and whenever possible, they distanced from the public. After all, it was they, who were the Stars.
Magic came along, and with that wonderful smile, he welcomed the fans into his world. At one point, he was by far, the most popular player in the NBA. Welcome back, Magic, we have been waiting for you. We are looking forward to “Show Time at Staples”.
Email: Johnr@ pasadenajournal.com