Happy 50th Birthday Magic

Kurt —  August 14, 2009

Annual Harold Pump Foundation Gala Honoring Magic Johnson And Bill Russell
It seems fitting that today in downtown Los Angeles, a huge Lakers-sponsored 3-on-3 basketball tournament gets underway, one that is going to take over blocks of a revitalized downtown and bring hundreds and hundreds of people to play hoops. (You can go down and watch or still play, just follow the link.)

None of that may have been possible without Magic Johnson.

Sure, the Lakers were a popular team in LA, but they were sort of the Buffalo Bills of the NBA, having been beat (usually by the Celtics) everytime they went to the Finals until the ’72 breakthrough year. But the arrival of Magic Johnson (paired with Kareem Abdul Jabbar and later James Worthy as well) changed that. Magic was a winner, from his first game when he ran over and hugged a stunned Kareem, to his first NBA Finals when he played the deciding game in the post because Kareem was out, to the baby skyhook in the Boston Garden. Magic won, and did it with flare. Three MVPs, nine trips to the Finals and five rings. He changed the franchise.

There was the day Magic announced he had HIV, which at the time was generally thought of as a death sentence. He helped change that perception and brought real awareness of the ongoing fight against the disease and how to live with it to the public at large.

Really, for the good of Los Angeles, that is just half the story. After Magic left the Lakers he did not leave Los Angeles, he invested in it. He invested in the urban, poor neighborhoods that nobody else would, and got big name companies to join him (but not without considerable work). He showed corporations they could make money in areas that before they had feared to tread, and while those floodgates have never truly opened, they are more open now than they have been.

In that sense, what is going on today in Downtown Los Angeles is a credit to him. The Lakers would not be the Lakers without him, the passion and love of the team and the game in Los Angeles would not be as deep without him. Investment in urban areas such as downtown would be much less farther along without him.

Los Angeles would not be the same without him. Thank you Magic, and happy birthday.

Kurt

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24 responses to Happy 50th Birthday Magic

  1. this actually came from the old NBA Superstars highlight tape – http://www.amazon.com/NBA-Superstars-VHS-Magic-Johnson/dp/6301562909.

  2. I love how in the highlight video, Magic is making all these crazy passes for all these crazy dunks, then one time he dishes to Kurt Rambis and Rambis goes up for a “strong lay-up” Luke Walton-style.

  3. Walton-style would be a missed lay-up.

  4. Those passes. Gee-zuss, there’s a surreal quality to some of them, a “how did that get through?!?” quality to them.

    While watching him, it was always sort of hard to put your finger on exactly What made Magic a great player – – – he was a strange player . . . dribbled too high, funky shot, no “smooth moves” on offense to speak of.

    And yet these strange things would go on . . . but they went on systematically and relentlessly and won game after game.

  5. My take on Magic is that his playing for 9 finals in 12 seasons is the 2nd biggest achievement in the NBA aside from Jordan’s 6 finals MVP’s. And to be honest, had he not contracted AIDS, he (not Jordan) would have gone down as the undisputed GOAT. He had more titles left in him when he retired, and a lot more assists. He was by far a superior team player to Jordan. And I believe that part of the reason Lebron had so much more hype than Kobe coming into the league is because basketball people saw shades of Magic’s game in Lebron, while people saw Jordan’s game in Kobe.

  6. Happy Birthday Magic.

    I grew up on the wizzadry of Magic. His highlights are legendary and the nature of his game was, indeed, unorthadox. There will never, ever, be another player quite like him. There will be some that will have the size or the skill or the guts or the innate feel or the charisma or the joy for the game, but none will encompass all of those traits and combine them with the insatiable desire to win the game. He is easily a top 5 player all time and right there with Michael Jordan as the best non-Forward/Center to ever play. Man, I miss that guy. He was and continues to be my favorite player ever.

    One thing that has struck me while watching all of his classic performances on NBA TV over the past several days is how quickly he advanced the ball on almost every single possession. He covered so much ground because of his size, but he also was always unselfish enough to pass the ball ahead much more than what PG’s do today. On many possessions, he would take one dribble and then just pass ahead – to Cooper, to Scott, to Norm Nixon, to Worthy, to whoever was open or had a step on his man. Nowadays, primary ball handlers or offensivie iniators feel the need to monopolize the ball and trust *their* decision to make the play rather than give the ball up to an advancing teammate. Magic was just the opposite in that any player that was in a better position then him to make a play with the ball was the guy that he sought out. Sure, Magic would walk the ball up or call out a half court set or run the break in a traditional way where he was the primary play maker. But so many times he would make a baseball pass to an open teammate streaking up the sideline or he would throw a chest pass ahead to someone who only had a few inches of separation in order to create an easy bucket. Just an amazing player when it came to understanding who was in a position to hurt the opponent. I’ll never foreget the post-game presser after one of the epic battles between the Lakers and the Celtics – the game where Magic hit the running junior sky hook to win Game 4 of the ’87 Finals – and Larry Bird was at the mic with a look of disbelief and just shaking his head as he said “Magic’s just a great basketball player. He’s the best I’ve ever seen, you know. I…Unbelievable. I don’t know what to say.” Classic.

  7. Dunk Specialist August 14, 2009 at 12:05 pm

    I am curious as to what people think about Magic id he played in the NBA today. Do you think he would be a small foward? Would he be forced to score and not be the same passer? Do you think he would be caught up in trying to become a billionaire? I think he would be a different player in this era but want to hear what other people think. Magic… Greatest Point guard ever playing small forward:(

  8. It’s impossible to sum up this man’s greatness with just a few words or highlights. I’m 36, so I grew up watching this era play and he was absolutely amazing. I feel bad for the younger fans who missed out on watching him go to work every night.

    Among the many things that I loved about his player, one really stood out: his desire to put in the work needed to win.

    You knew when the Lakers came up short in the playoffs, people would write them off but none of that mattered. Magic would work harder than ever that summer, and L.A. would come back stronger the next season. Look back on the choke of 1984, or the disappointment of missing the Finals in ’86. Everyone thought L.A. was dead. And everyone watched a parade to the Forum the next summer.

    And each summer late in his career, you could see that Magic had focused on a part of his game and improved it. One year it was free-throw shooting, another it was shooting the three. Dude never stopped trying to improve.

  9. Happy Happy Birthday Magic Johnson. He was the main reason I would go to Laker games at the Forum back then, it was just amazing to watch him on the floor, he made Showtime. The day it was anounced that he had Aids, I was in my apartment and just could not stop crying, the neighbors would come over and ask what was wrong. I would tell them about what had happened to Magic, it just upset me so much (I thought my hero was going to die), but look at him today, he has shown the world that Aides is not a death sentence.

    “Courage is fear that has said its prayers.” – Dorothy Bernard

  10. For all of us who remember the day of the HIV announcement, today really seems like a miracle. It’s a joy to have Magic still with us and so healthy and vibrant.

    On the court, there’s really not much more to say about him other than, all he ever did was win. I was fortunate enough to see his entire career and he was easily the most complete, dynamic player I have ever seen.

    I wish someone could compile a highlight film just of Magic’s buzzer beating shots. He made dozens of them over the course of his career – not just at the end of games, but at the end of quarters and halves – I saw him do this so many times it was ridiculous. The full-court heave – a one-handed baseball swish straight off a rebound – at the halftime buzzer of game 1 in the ’87 playoffs vs. Denver was particularly slick.

  11. WE LOVE YOU, MAGIC.

    You are the greatest of ALL TIME.

  12. 6 – Much as I love Magic, I’m not sure I’d pick 9 finals in 12 seasons as the NBA’s second greatest achievment or Jordan’s 6 Finals MVPs as the greatest.

    How about Russell’s 9 rings in 11 seasons? How about Wilt’s 50 ppg in a season, a season he played nearly every minute of the regular season?

    Now, if he had lead the Lakers over the Celtics in ’84 as well, then …

  13. Magic’s impact on the game can’t be expressed in just a few words. He was the ultimate winner. He made everyone around him better. The flat jumper, no-look passes, hook shoot and that smile. He was an unbelievable talent. I’ve always been an MJ fan over Magic but I think he is right that with MJ. He had sooooo much more game to bring to the table had the players not silently boycotting his play back in 1991-1992. I hate his time was cut short but I appreciate his game more and more as the years progress.

    Great Ballplayer and Businessman!

    Happy Birthday Magic!

  14. 6 – oh yeah, I do agree that LBJ has a touch of Magic in his game …

  15. This might sound strange to some, but the only current player who I see throw those Magic quality thread-the-needle passes and cross court passes is that big nose Argentinian flopper Manu Ginobili.

    9 Finals in 12 seasons. Incredible!

  16. eh Russels 9 titles to me is like Ruth’s 741 home runs. It was a different era. Same with Wilt. Back then nobody taller than 6’10” played ball except for Russel and Wilt.

  17. Happy Bday, big guy.

    I’ve never heard people talk about Magic’s defense (admittedly, because he was so damn awe-inspiring on the other end). For those who saw his entire career start to finish – how was his defense, overall?

  18. Happy Birthday, Magic Man. Do you believe in Magic? Old lyrics…I believed in Magic. Until Magic joined the league I never watched professional basketball. I was a college basketball fan–that’s not true, I was a UCLA fanatic!
    I remember all of the hype that surrounded him when he came to the Lakers, he was only 19 yrs old.
    I vividly remember the first game he played as a Laker and the jubilation at winning the game. The hug he gave Kareem at the buzzer.
    I doubt if there will ever be another player like Earvin “Magic” Johnson!

    Hands down my favorite player of all time, he’s the reason I follow basketball to this day! To me: THE GREATEST!!!

  19. hey chearn, i want to give you credit too for that unbelievable era of the magic led Lakers, along with Chicky baby, the Forum, Jack N, etc etc etc. it was like a perfect storm of basketball all coming together at once.
    I still recall exactly where I was and with who, when the aids announcement went out, what a shock.
    then when Magic tries to come back, the other teams, especially Karl Malone and the oner of the Suns, protested loudest, because… they KNEW the Lakers led again by Magic, who still had a lot left in him, would be unstoppable that year.
    Magic and that team, they way it was constructed, had at least a couple more rings left in them.
    ahhh, what an era, fo’ sure!
    (and name another player who has a TEAM named after him, huh??)

  20. Another thing, too, Chris h , I will always think highly of Dr. Buss due to his handling of Magic post HIV announcement. He honored Magic’s contract gave him a 1-2% interest in the Lakers, then allowed Magic to return as a Laker player, thereby having to sell his interest in the team. Then when playing did not pan out, he tried his hand at coaching, unsuccessfully, and Dr. Buss once again allowed him to regain his ownership in the team.

    Why did Dr. Buss conduct his business relationship with Magic in such a manner?

    Of course, I do not know the machinations that occur behind the scene during contract negotiations, however, I have always thought that Dr. Buss takes care of the players that he considers to be the foundation of a championship.

    Yes, my handle is in honor of Chick Hearn, the voice that allowed us to see the game over the airwaves of radio while we worked. Wow, there was no DVR, internet or cell phones then (truly, I am dating myself) so we lived the game through the ‘Voice’.

    The Magic`could have used the player “Magic” during the championship game.

  21. Magic is simply THE REASON i am still a basketball and Laker fan.
    I was seven when he announced he had HIV and cried when my dad explained what the deal was. Seeing him today smiling like he always did is awesome. More than a player, whom i consider the greatest of all-time (’cause its a team sport MJ!!), he is an idol to me as a person.

  22. Earvin “Magic” Johnson is the reason I am a basketball fan. I still remember the first time I saw the Lakers at the Forum as a kid in 1982. Seeing Magic do his thing live is an experience I will never forget.

    If someone had a time machine and offered me the chance to either go back and watch Jordan take someone off the dribble or Magic lead a fast break the choice would be easy. Seeing Magic lead the break is one of the greatest sights the NBA has ever produced.

    Happy Birthday, Magic. You are still just as vibrant today as you were back in 1987.

  23. Oh my!
    I didnt realize that he was that old!