Finding the Magic in Las Vegas
This is especially true during the summer months, a time when the crippling heat that grips our country makes work all but impossible (unless you have a real job). And on weekends that happen to coincide with a highly-touted boxing match, the city is bursting at the seams with A-listers (and some B- and C-listers as well).
I do have a real job, yet still managed to end up in Vegas this past weekend. And no, this is not a summer league story or a USA Basketball Training Camp feature. Believe it or not, my reason for visiting Las Vegas this past weekend has nothing to do with events (let's just say the last of my single friends has fallen). Months after booking our reservation at Mandalay Bay Resort, we learned that boxing great Bernard Hopkins would defending his Light Heavyweight crown against Ronald “Winky” Wright as the scheduled main event of the weekend (Hopkins won a unanimous 12-round decision). Yet somehow, the match was overshadowed by an even bigger event.
Despite the presence of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and the rest of their USAB training buddies, "Entourage" stars Adrian Grenier and Kevin Dillon and even Al Roker (who hosted the annual Running of the Brides at the Venetian for NBC's "The Today Show"), it was NBA legend Magic Johnson who attracted the most attention, the most stop-and-turns from people passing by and certainly the most photo and autograph solicitations. Magic hosted the fight afterparty at a club within Mandalay Bay (Magic Johnson Enterprises was the title sponsor).
The thousands of people waiting outside the velvet rope took notice as the many VIPs entered the club, but no one cause more of a stir than Magic. The noise level outside the club rose by hundreds of decibels (I actually have no idea what constitutes a lot of decibels, but let's just say it got loud). He spent more time on the red (or was it blue) carpet as celebs and players who were already inside and situated came out just to pose for pics with him. People were struggling and fighting through the crowd just to get close enough to touch him (they weren't getting past his security detail, though). He was the biggest star in town, without question. (I wouldn't have even known that USA Basketball was training here this weekend had I not constantly read NBA.com or seen J.J. Redick waiting outside of Magic's party.)
More than a decade after retiring from the NBA and more than 15 years after announcing to the world that he was HIV positive, Magic Johnson is still one of the most recognizeable and beloved celebrities in all the world. Sure, he led the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA championships (and four more Finals appearances) and made millions of dollars in endorsements during his career, but his business ventures, broadcasting work and foundation efforts have kept him in the spotlight and further contributed to his legendary status. Even Celtics that I know (who always respected Magic despite rooting so hard against him) have grown to love him.
Magic may have been Showtime and has become one of the most successful businessmen in the country as the Chairman and C.E.O. for Magic Johnson Enterprises (he owns 31 Burger Kings, five movie theaters, a dozen 24-Hour Fitness centers, 27 Wa-Mu Home Loan centers and even a T.G.I.Friday's), but he is still THE face of HIV and AIDS in America.
While on "Oprah" last year, he said that he is able to keep his immune system strong through a strenuous workout that includes an hour on an exercise bike followed by weight training. His diet consists of healthy meals and he also takes three pills twice a day. And while rumors continue to run rampant that he has been cured of the disease and has access to special medications, Magic has repeatedly denied these rumors.
The fact remains, though, despite the best efforts by Magic and other famous spokesman who work towards raising awareness and basic preventative health education, 38.6 million people are currently living with HIV and the numbers continue to grow. There are more than 1 million Americans living with HIV (more than 250,000 of them don't even know it). AIDS is also the number one killer for African-American women ages 25 to 34.
These aren't the facts and figures you necessarily think about when you see Magic's smiling face in a crowd of fans (or, more accurately, above a crowd of fans). Heck, even I was caught up in the frenzy and excitement of seeing Magic out on the scene. Many of the people cramming in to shake his hand were probably too young to remember Magic's glory years on the court (which obviously makes even me feel old) but they still recognize and flock to him as the life of the party.
But for everyone, young or old, who goes to Vegas to play and party, Magic can also be a reminder that what happens in Vegas may not always stay in Vegas.