Today is a special day. It’s special because we thought we’d never make it this date, but here we are. Twenty years ago, Magic Johnson announced that he was HIV positive and would retire from the Lakers immediately. By the time today came, I think many of us thought our worst fears would have already come true. That we would have watched one of the very best players we’d ever seen whither away and go through a horrid decline in health. But it hasn’t happened. Instead, Magic is still here with us today. Still smiling, still contributing to the game.
And while his playing career was cut short, no one can take away the memories. I’ll never forget how watching him play made me feel; how much pure joy it brought me. So on a day that will be always be remembered for Magic walking away, I remember him how I always will: as the dominant player he was. Here’s to 20 more years.
The event will be held at the Manhattan Beach Marriot.
Magic’s on court heroics crafted many indelible memories for Laker fans, but his off the court work has had an impact that supersedes any rings or honors attained on the 94-foot-hunk-of-hardwood.
The Magic Johnson Foundation is one that is multifaceted and reaches into communities in a multitude of ways, from providing technology for under-served youths through his Empowerment Centers, to organizing job fairs, and providing scholarships, to educating diverse communities on the realities of those most effected by HIV.
Through Magic Johnson Enterprises he has built movie theaters, Starbucks, 24 Hour Fitness, and TGI Fridays in the communities that were historically ignored by larger franchises.
“I started in business over 25 years ago and have found a way to build on what I’ve learned through every partnership and opportunity. I’ve tried a lot of different things—some have worked out well, some have not—but I’ve stay committed to my goal to develop and grow a successful business and in the process I’ve found a way to give back through the Magic Johnson Foundation, which has meant all the difference.”
Other Laker luminaries and personalities are also expected to be present including Jerry West, Bill Sharman, Gary Vitti, James Worthy, Mychal Thompson, and Stu Lantz.
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.