Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Announcement

Like a lot of folks, I'm able to recall where I was when I learned of earth-shattering events grabbing the headlines in a news cycle. What often makes certain events so shocking is the fact they're totally unexpected to the point where one describes the personal reaction as a veritable punch to the stomach.

As a young man who was rather immune (OK, willfully ignorant) to the areas of life which transcended the headlines seen on a Sports page, I couldn't even process the shock I felt hearing the plight of an idol of mine.

On Thursday, Nov. 7, 1991, Earvin "Magic" Johnson made people stop and watch at the Forum in Inglewood, Calif. But this time it wasn't his basketball brilliance as a perennial NBA All-Star and three-time MVP that was captivating audiences worldwide. Instead, the 32-year-old groundbreaking point guard was holding a press conference to make the stunning announcement that he was HIV-positive and would be retiring from basketball immediately. But the shock of this declaration went deeper.

Having the AIDS virus in 1991 was widely seen as a death sentence, and the commonly held belief was that we would be watching a beloved sports hero die excruciatingly and swiftly in front of our eyes. Yet Magic had a different narrative in mind. He defied the odds, not just surviving, but truly living and prospering. From his MVP performance in the 1992 NBA All-Star Game, his participation on the original Olympic "Dream Team" later that year and an NBA comeback in 1996, to his astounding success as a businessman, philanthropist and ambassador in the fight against AIDS, Magic has lived up to the promise of his nickname.

I can honestly say that it was Magic Johnson who fostered my interest in pro basketball. Because the Twin Cities was without an NBA franchise in the early 1980s, I grew up watching the likes of Magic, "Dr. J" Julius Erving, Larry Bird and Moses Malone every Sunday on the "NBA on CBS." But I was especially drawn to Magic, given the way he would seem to pass the basketball around the court as if he had eyes in the back of his head. And it didn't matter that Minnesota's own Kevin McHale would become a staple of the Boston Celtics in the 80s. Whenever it was Lakers-Celtics in the NBA Finals, I was for L.A. all the way!! In fact, I grew a severe disdain for the likes of Bird, Isiah Thomas and Michael Jordan when their respective teams stood in the way of Magic and the Lakers winning an NBA title. Yes, I know the Lakers won five championships in the '80s, but I never wanted them to lose ever.

I was a senior in college when this stunning development took place. As I was driving to my afternoon job, I happened to be listening to local sports station KFAN when they reported that Magic would be retiring from basketball due to his contracting the AIDS virus. I'll never forget how Tony Campbell (at that time a member of the Minnesota Timberwolves), Magic's former teammate with the Lakers, could barely muster a complete sentence due to his being so broken up over the whole saga. I then phoned home to ask my brother to record the Magic press conference, which would air on ESPN.

Tomorrow night, ESPN Films presents their latest documentary The Announcement, which will air at 8:00 pm Central Time.

The film will explore the events leading up to Magic's shocking revelation as well commentary from family, friends and teammates on how they endured the news.

I know I'll be tuning in.


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