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.