Magic Johnson Reminded Me Why I Fell In Love With Basketball

Getty Images/Courtesy Of American Express

Magic Johnson is and has always been my favorite basketball player. Ever. So when I had the chance this week to attend an intimate conversation between two NBA legends, Pat Riley and Magic Johnson, I was beyond thrilled. This was a dream night.

The hour-long conversation was moderated by ESPN’s Cari Champion and is part of a larger American Express NBA series called Teamed Up, and the discussion highlighted the duo’s amazing careers — together and separately — and of course had them recalling some of their most memorable moments with the Showtime Lakers.

They also shared their thoughts on this year’s NBA Finals. Riley claimed Magic would beat Lebron in a game of one on one, which you can watch below. (Of course, Magic is more complimentary of Lebron than himself, but we’ll get to that later.)

It was a special night for me because I grew up in Los Angeles and discovered my own sports fandom when the Showtime Lakers were huge. I’m just old enough to remember watching those last two NBA playoff runs with my dad, but I was also young enough that Magic wasn’t just a guy to me. He was a superhero, my Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man all rolled into one. He was Magic, but he was also magic — in the sense that my kindergarten-aged mind could barely comprehend the feats of athleticism and skill he displayed on a nightly basis. Plus, The Forum in Inglewood wasn’t too far from where I lived in Compton, before the Lakers moved downtown to the Staples Center.

In fact, in a roundabout way, it was Magic Johnson who prompted my longstanding Los Angeles Clippers fandom.

In 1992, when Magic made the decision to retire (the first time) after announcing his contraction of what is still a very misunderstood disease, HIV (or the Human Immunodeficiency Virus), I was too young to understand or come to grips with concepts like sex, groupies, or the moral implications of my hero’s infidelity to his wife Cookie. I knew two things: One, that my hero was sick, and two, that meant that my hero was mortal.

So I spent the night I found out crying. I cried because I wasn’t ready to not see Magic Johnson play basketball. I cried because I wanted to believe in magic. I cried because that situation prompted, on some level, the realization that you really can’t always rely on your heroes; that people you love are going to let you down.

Getty Images/ Courtesy Of American Express

I wanted Magic to be reliable, a stable figure in my life, I wanted him to be my hero, because things were getting tough. I was coming to the realization that the Compton I lived in was considered “a dangerous part of town,” and dealing with the ramifications from my parents’ divorce, which meant I was now in a completely different living situation than the majority of my peers (since I was lucky enough​ to go to a private school in the nice part of neighboring Long Beach), who still lived in two-parent households. I was so heartbroken about Magic’s disappearance from my TV screen, and therefore my life, that I decided that I couldn’t bear to watch the Lakers any longer.