Just got back from what is perhaps, the best day of my life. Magic Johnson has been my hero since I was little and today, after 30 years of being a fan, I finally got to shake his hand! The event was a one on one conversation between Magic and the LA Times sports writer Bill Plaschke at Loyola Marymount University. Living in Echo Park, I took the 110, passing through all the X-Games traffic, and through a time vortex. Chakka Khan “I Feel For You” came on the radio as I passed the exit for The Great Western Forum and I started crying. Not sad tears, just tears of life and love and Magic! Passing The Forum and then passing LAX, I felt a swelling of pride that I haven’t felt since ’87! Randy Newman 100%: I LOVE L.A.

I got the the LMU and the security guard, directing cars to the appropriate lots, told me “Follow that Porsche”. Yeah right! After a meandering drive through LMU’s campus I saw the purple and yellow and knew I was at the right place. I signed in, got my wristband for the opening reception and found a spot to wait for the big man.

What a sportsman. This guy knows how to work a room! A great photographer, who shot a lot of the ’80’s games at The Forum, and I struck up a conversation and we watched as Magic, towering above everyone. Suddenly a line formed and I didn’t care what it was for, I was in! Inching along I realized I was about to meet Magic!

When I woke up this morning, the first thing I thought was “I wonder if Magic’s as excited about meeting me as I am him.” Once I’d had coffee I realized that was a goofy thought, but looking at the photo, I suspect I might be on to something! He offered his right side, I took to his left, and he said “Oh on this side?” and I stuttered “Whatever you say Magic!” Then they snapped the photo. I got to shake his hand, thank him, and share a laugh. Talk about dreams coming true!

There were some amazing and colorful Lakers fans on hand, but as always it comes down to the nails. This Grandmother had followed her grandson’s instructions, achieving great results!

I rushed down to get a good seat for the main event, and I scored a spot in the front row, on Magic’s side. If there’s a patron saint of basketball fans, they were with me today.

Magic talked us through the 1980 championship game when Kareem got hurt and Magic played center. He said he arrived to fly with the team and saw that Kareem wasn’t there and morale was low. He never considered not winning, so he got onto the Lakers plane, Kareem always sat in the first seat, and Magic took the captain’s seat. Telling everyone “Have no fear Magic’s here.” By the time they landed he’d singularly coached every player on the flight, “You know, we can match up. They can’t”. By the end of the first quarter, it became apparent they could win with Magic at center.

Then he talked about the team I grew up with, The 1987 Los Angeles Lakers. He talked about passing to Worthy, he did imitations of Kareem, saying, “You run ahead. Call me if you need me for the skyhook.” He joked about being afraid to pass to AC with his slippery jherri curl! He talked about Bird, and the infamous Converse commercial that finally broke the ice between the epic rivals, who turned out to be so similar, two Mid Western ball players , from the sticks, who love the game.

I would love to see Magic give a motivational talk, because he’s so inspiring to me. He said you have to fail to win, in reference to the Championship in ’84 compared to ’87. When asked about having half of Hollywood on the floor at The Forum- he said the stars didn’t like him, because he was intense, moody and focussed when he was on the court. I remember that intensity and the graciousness with which he played. Magic Johnson’s 25 million dollar deal for a 25 year contract was huge back then. I wish today’s players, with their inflated salaries played with half the enthusiasm of Magic and Bird.

He told the story about having dinner at Michael Jackson’s house and that Michael was a big Lakers fan, he just knew better than to try to go to a game. But Magic made him promise after he did the “Heal The World” video for Michael, and sure enough MJ could only make it through the first quarter as The Forum went nuts!

Then Magic turned into a comedy mastermind. I kid you not, his Jordan impressions had the whole room on the floor! He joked “The tongue went left, and we’re all on the left. Then the tongue went right and we were lost.” He talked about the Dream Team warm up games in Barcelona, East versus West of the greatest basketball team ever assembled. Rivalries every day, and ties at the end of each fourth quarter, that Chuck Daly never let ’em resolve, convinced they were all playing too hard.

He talked about the night none of us will ever forget, when he announced his retirement and that he’d contracted HIV. He said he didn’t cry when he found out, he cried when he had to tell his wife and he cried when he saw the Lakers play without him. I did too.  He told us about how he met Cookie and first saw a pair of jeans filled in all the right places, walking on campus, and followed her. On their first date they went to dinner and afterwards she asked what they were gonna do next and he said, “I’m going to train, and you’re gonna rebound”. He said if she rebounded for him he knew she was the one. The rest is history. He said when he told her he’d contracted HIV he offered her an out, she said no and they kept discussing the situation. He offered an out again and she hit him hard, telling him she was there for better or worse. I heard sniffles, so I know I wasn’t the only one crying at the brevity and sentimentality of his stories.

A fan asked him to talk about Chick Hearn (great question!) and Magic told of his rookie season. Nobody wanted to hang out with him. So, on the road, Chick would have breakfast and lunch with Magic. Telling him about all the legends. Can you imagine?! The eggs are cooling, the butter is getting hard explaining the game and the Lakers legacy to young Earvin “Magic” Johnson?!

A young fan, who Magic referred to as “Little Man” asked about training. Magic told him that when his mother would send him to the store for milk, he’d dribble with his right on the way and carry the groceries in his right and dribble with his left on the way home. He asked Little Man if he loved the game and then he told him to play.

Magic’s going to church tomorrow, I went to church today.

32 FOREVER!

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