- Karan Madhok / @hoopistani
The city of the Orlando Magic and of so many theme parks – from Disney World to the Magic Kingdom – seems to have a constant sense of magic and wonder in the air. It's the city where Shaq burst onto the scene before going to L.A. The city where the next Superman – Dwight Howard – reigns for now, but it could be easily be his Smallville before he jets off to a metropolis. The city which will host the 2012 NBA All-Star Game this weekend. The city which hosted the All-Star Weekend exactly 20 years ago. The city where, for that one February night in 1992, all the magic in the air was conjured by the greatest basketball magician of them all.
Once upon a time, in the late 70s, when the league struggled to create its identity post the merger with the ABA, a star was born. An NCAA champion with Michigan State, Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson took the league by storm his rookie season in 1979, and by the end of the year in 1980, he had already won his first NBA championship, was named the Finals MVP for the first time, and played the biggest game of his life – playing all five positions on the court to produce a 42-point, 15-rebound, 7-assist, 3-steal masterpiece without the help of team leader Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – to hand the Lakers a championship clinching victory in the last game of the season, Game 6 of the Finals.
Over the next few years, Magic's star grew bigger and brighter, and the magical aura around Earvin continued to baffle as many as it amazed. He reached the NBA Finals seven more times over the next 11 years and won the championship four times. He earned the MVP title thrice in the 80s and the Finals MVP twice more. He was named to the All-NBA First Team nine times, each year from 1983-1991 and was a driving force behind the 1992 USA Dream Team, perhaps the greatest collection of individual talents ever assembled on a basketball court.
In the process, he epitomized the ‘magic’ that earned him the moniker, leading the offense of a Lakers team that became one of the most entertaining teams in NBA history. Magic is unquestionably one of the greatest point guards to ever dribble a basketball and one of the best who ever played the game at any position. Anywhere. Period.
Now it’s 1991, and imagine this star, still only 32, still near the height of his powers, just coming off another Finals appearance (a loss to Michael Jordan’s Bulls) and another nomination to the All-NBA First Team. Imagine him not on the basketball court, but in a conference room. Imagine him not dishing out fancy passes, but instead, delivering a depressing piece of news that would shatter NBA fans forever.
“Because of a... HIV virus I have attained, I will have to retire from the Lakers, today...”
Boom! Crash! Supernova! The star explodes. The magic is over. The magic is over!
‘HIV’, to the naďve world in 1991, meant ‘AIDS’, and ‘AIDS’ meant ‘Death’. One of the most popular and greatest NBA players of all time was not only going to leave the NBA but perhaps, sadly, leave the world. The night sky, shattered by the loss of its former brightest star, moves on. It can only mourn the magic so much, for it has other stars – like Chicago’s Michael Jordan – to shine and keep it alight all night.
But Magic – magically – survived. And magically, he returned.
February 9, 1992, 20 years and a few days ago. Back in the city of Orlando. It was the NBA All-Star Game in a 1991-92 season which had already been in motion for three months without Magic Johnson. But NBA fans hadn’t had enough of the enchanting superstar, and, for the first time, voted a retired player into the Western Conference starting lineup. Magic Johnson started that game in Orlando – a game that featured Michael Jordan, Isiah Thomas, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Hakeem Olajuwon and many more legends of the game – and he finished it like he had finished so many games in his life before. A winner.
Magic scored 25 points and dished out 9 assists, leading the Western Conference to a 153-113 victory, and as the first retired player to play in an All Star Game, became the first retired player to be named MVP of an All-Star Game.
Founded in 1989, the professional basketball team in Orlando might have already been named ‘Magic’, but they truly earned that name after the city hosted Magic Johnson on one of his most magical nights. This weekend, 20 years later, the city welcomes new All Stars – Howard, Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, Derrick Rose, Dwayne Wade and others – who are ready to open their bag of tricks for an exciting exhibition once again. The game will serve as a reminder to perhaps the most memorable and emotional night in NBA All-Star history.
By the way: this fairytale too continued the way many others do, because Magic Johnson defeated the HIV virus, and he lives happily ever after.