dEDGE Post Scriptum
Here’s an article to help fill the gap between the just concluded Western Conference Finals, and to get the juices flowing again for our impending date with the Orlando Magic. A lot of you may remember the broad-smiled, boyish mannered rookie teaming up with the aloof, grizzled veteran, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in the 1979-80 NBA season. But for those of you who weren’t lucky enough to witness the real Showtime, here’s Part I to a jaunt down memory lane to help evoke the spirits of Lakers past in our bid for the 2008-09 NBA crown.
Going relatively unnoticed this season was the 30th anniversary of Earvin “Magic” Johnson’s arrival to the Los Angeles Lakers and the birth of Showtime. Magic was selected as the overall number 1 pick in the 1979 NBA draft by new Lakers owner, Jerry Buss. The 19-year old sophomore from Michigan State had just led his Spartans to the NCAA title by defeating Indiana State starring their own magical player, Larry Bird. Magic, stood 6’9″ and 215 lbs., and was built like a prototypical power forward. But his eye popping, ball-handling skills and court vision made him a natural yet unusual point guard.
He overpowered and punished smaller guards that tried to defend him. He was able to scan the entire court and pass over, around and through any defender. And he could beat slower footed bigs who tried to out-muscle him with physical play. Magic entered the league with all of the hype and expectations of a hoops savior. He was that and much, much more. Naysayers said that he wouldn’t last, that the rigors of the NBA would soon slap the naive smile from his face. But Magic didn’t simply arrive, he landed in L.A. with a bang and immediately created a renaissance for the entire league. He made it fun to watch NBA games again. More importantly, he made it cool to pass the ball. And he brought an aura of invincibility with him that soon spread like a California wildfire, catching everyone and everything in its path. Shortly after Magic’s arrival, Showtime was born and Los Angeles was head over heels with its new superstar.
What endeared him to fans from the get-go was the simple joy he displayed for the game. He not only displayed his emotions freely and in full view, but he shared them with all around him with the innocent exuberance of a child. His beaming and radiant smile were a welcome sight to fans in an era when athletes typically made themselves recluses and unavailable to the public. Magic showed his joy on and off the court, high-fiving Kareem Abdul-Jabbar after a signature skyhook or a total stranger on the street with equal aplomb. He rebuilt and rebranded the careers of many, and brought success and lucrative contracts to relative unknowns. “I’m going to keep on smiling because that’s how I live,” he says. “When I get up in the morning I’m grateful to see the sun. I’m just going to go on being happy old Earvin because that’s what people seem to like. And it’s fun to be liked, the funnest thing of all.”
He took a back seat to scoring but his presence was always in the limelight. Magic could score 4 points, but still dominate the game from start to finish. His passion was unparalleled, his loyalty unwavering, and his determination steadfast. Magic’s first season read like this: 18 points, 7.7 rebounds, 7.3 assists per game. And that was while he split the point guard duties with Norm Nixon. He had opponents shaking their heads in disbelief. He could deliver the ball right into your hands when there was no possible way to get it there. “Magic sees angles a lot of guards don’t see,” former teammate Jim Chones once said, “and he gives you the ball in the rhythm of your move so you can go right up with it.”
Magic was everything imaginable at any given time. Scorer, passer, rebounder, defender, emotional healer, teammate, cheerleader, floor general, and world-class entertainer. If you blinked when you were watching him, you risked missing the highlight of the evening. If you were one of his teammates and looked away, you risked having Spaulding implanted on the back of your head. But if you ever felt miserable, Magic could make you smile again. And if you ever felt like punching a Celtic, or was tired of the losing, or felt that the team wasn’t competing, Magic had your back and wore these emotions on his sleeve for you. He was the ultimate competitor yet displayed the utmost sportsmanship. He was the bona fide ringleader, the new sheriff in town, and a god-sent savior for the future of the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA.
Magic, along with a star-studded line-up, (Abdul-Jabbar, Jamaal Wilkes, Norm Nixon, Jim Chones,and fellow rookie Michael Cooper), brought home the NBA title that first year. And celebrating right next to him was his new pal, Jerry Buss. Everyone knows Magic’s line in the Lakers’ 123-107 title clinching victory against Dr. J and the Philadelphia 76ers, (42 points, 15 rebounds, 7 assists, 3 steals, 1 blocked shot). He was more than magical in that game, making the acrobatic and graceful Julius Erving seem mortal. Furthermore, he made Darryl “Chocolate Thunder” Dawkins appear tiny and insignificant. Kareem averaged 31.9 points and 12 rebounds per game in the playoffs. But he was upstaged by the rookie point guard after an ankle sprain in Game 5 had rendered him too hurt to go in Game 6. Everyone expected the Sixers to easily take that game and have Kareem back in uniform for the decisive Game 7. But it never came to that and instead, Finals MVP Magic Johnson led the parade down Broadway Avenue to the steps of City Hall where the Lakers hoisted their first trophy of the Showtime era.
Magic was, and remains the epitome of Lakers purple and gold and everything that falls in between. There is no other Laker player in history who has meant more to the organization during his playing days or after his retirement. Magic brought unparalleled success and non-stop excitement to the Lakers organization. And he brought hope, compassion and a new synergy after his playing days were through. And even through the darkest moments of his storied affliction with HIV, his early retirement and the difficult, stationary years thereafter, Magic faced all obstacles with that signature smile intact on his face and the unwavering confidence and naivete of a 19-year old kid. Today, Magic stands like a proud father, brooding and sometimes critical of his young and sometimes immature Lakers, but don’t ever doubt his loyalty or where his heart lies. He bleeds Forum blue and gold, and don’t you forget it.