It’s Magic Johnson‘s birthday today, so we wish him well. It’s crazy to think that one of the top five players ever is turning 53 today. We can rehash the championships, the glory, the highlight reel passes and the girls, of course. But what I’ll always remember is the artistry. Because Magic didn’t just play the game of basketball, executing plays and passing it to the open man. But it wasn’t that he was trying to play with a particular flair, either, although some of his niftier dimes definitely had that feel. No, it was about patrolling the court, pupeteering every player around him, owning the game without owning the game.
Magic was just before my era – Michael Jordan is the first true superstar that I can recall. I remember watching those Jason Kidd, Richard Jefferson and Kenyon Martin New Jersey Nets teams, the way they used to share the ball with Kidd at the helm. Announcers would gratuitously compare Kidd to Magic, the way that both players could dominate a game without scoring. And I believed them, uninformed teenager that I was, so I imagined Magic Johnson as a better form of Jason Kidd.
“Be quick, but don’t hurry,” former UCLA coach John Wooden used to say. That was Magic, in a nutshell. He was rarely the fastest player on the court, or had the best jump shot, or was the best rebounder. There’s a certain element of basketball that very few players have these days, and that’s mastery of the ball. Chris Paul is the only player that I see it in now, where the basketball is really just an extension of his mind. He directs every twist, every turn, every hesitation, all of it. And Chris Paul isn’t very quick either, yet he always gets to his spot. Always. And so did Magic.
And then, of course, there was his sheer size: 6-9, 250 lbs. He was brutish, with the skills of a point guard, and that was just baffling. Maybe that’s why the comparisons to LeBron James are always on the tip of everyone’s tongue. But Magic Johnon was a point guard who happened to have the body of a power forward – it was his guile and ballhandling and precision that powered the engine. LeBron, though, is Magic’s counterpoint: a power-forward type body who happens to play the guard position. His basketball IQ is off the charts, and his mastery of the game intellectually is unparalleled, but he’ll always lack that certain semblance of control. Because when Magic played, you felt like the ball was pinging around at his every command.
So let’s take a moment to relive those glory days, as we remember one of the all-time greats. June 9, 1987. NBA Finals: Los Angeles Lakers vs. Boston Celtics. Game 4. Boston leads 106-105, seven seconds to go. The inbounds pass from Michael Cooper finds Magic Johnson in the left corner, guarded by Kevin McHale on a switch. Magic drives to the middle and rises up for the sky hook. The rest is history.
Oh yeah, and also. Happy Birthday Tim Tebow!
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