From the moment I could talk, many of my conversations have been focused on sports, and the athletes who play them.
I remember being young and worshipping Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Ken Singleton and my favorite Baltimore Oriole of the time, Al Bumbry. Bugsy Watson was the Washington Capital I followed with the most fervor, and Wes Unseld was the man for me on the Washington Bullets. When football season rolled around I was all about Bert Jones of the Baltimore Colts and Pat Fischer of the Washington Redskins, and boxer Sugar Ray Leonard probably trumped them all in my eyes, as he was the local kid who toppled the world in the Olympics.
I got a little older, and the athletes I worshiped did, as well. They began to retire from the games they played and new faces came in to replace them. Cal Ripken Jr. joined the Orioles and quickly became my favorite athlete of all time (still is). The walls in my bedroom began to be filled with images of Len Bias slamming down dunks, the U.S. hockey team celebrating a gold medal in Lake Placid, N.Y. and Wayne Gretzky performing feats with a hockey stick that seemed to defy the laws of physics, though I confess ignorance to the basic laws of physics. It just seemed like the right phrase there, right? Sometimes you just have to go with ...
But I digress.
The national sports conversation at that time was not about performance enhancing drugs, the neck of Peyton Manning or the faith of Tim Tebow — it was about two basketball players who were playing on opposite sides of the country, and whose side you happened to be on in the debate.
There was Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics, the proclaimed “Hick from French Lick,” who marveled fans with his smooth passing skills, feathery jump shot and assassin-like focus in big games. On the other side, you had Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers, the showman who led his team to glory through his wizardry with the basketball and charismatic charm on and off the court.
I was a Magic guy.
Magic was the flash and glitz — the very personification of Los Angeles. He could dazzle equally with a half-court bounce pass and a shared laugh with a referee during tense moments of ball games. I was always impressed with how he improved his game every year to better compete with Bird, adding a consistent outside shot and “baby hook” to his repertoire, and how he would forego the broad smile for fighting and clawing if that’s what that particular game dictated.
I remember coming back home after the first Gulf War and seeing the press conference when Magic announced to the world that he was HIV-positive. I was no longer the 10-year-old boy who worshiped Magic when he first entered the league, but I still felt my insides being torn apart at the news. I was still vastly uninformed on HIV and AIDS at that point in my life and fully expected Magic to be dead in a matter of months.
But, no, Magic had other plans.
He went on to become an advocate for AIDS, and probably helped spread awareness of the disease more effectively than any other person on the planet. He also became an entrepeneuer, investing in movie theaters, restaurants and other ventures, expanding both his wealth and his influence on the world.
On Tuesday night, a group of investors that includes Magic Johnson agreed to purchase the Los Angeles Dodgers for $2 billion. The once-proud franchise has become a joke in recent years after a very public and messy divorce between the primary owners caused the team to be financially unstable and seemingly run by incompetents.
Reading reactions on Wednesday morning from those in L.A., the “Magic Man” has restored faith and confidence in the team. Their hero has returned to save the franchise, and those in L.A. couldn’t be more excited.
As am I. Now if only Cal would buy the Orioles ...