Reprinted from Northland ThisWeek
July 11, 1992
In 1979, I was a sophomore in high school, a member of the basketball team and an avid fan of both the college and NBA games.
One memory that sticks out from the early part of that season is the attention being paid to a 6-9 point guard from Michigan State University.
A 6-9 point guard? Impossible, I thought. Maybe he can post up other guards, but there’s no way this guy will be able to handle the ball well enough to run the point.
Now, one NCAA championship and five NBA titles later, Earvin "Magic" Johnson, by most accounts the greatest point guard in the history of basketball, has left the game.
As a diehard fan of the Boston Celtics, I generally viewed Magic as the enemy throughout his career, and for good reason. In 1984, he and Larry Bird staged a seven-game championship duel that reaffirmed the NBA Finals as a national event. In 1987, his "Junior-Junior" hook shot won game five of the finals for the Lakers and assured his squad the "Team of the Decade" title.
As happens with most rivalries, years of competition develop into respect. This was the case with Magic, whose incredible ability to make those around him better earned him the admiration of the most rabid fans of the Celtics, Pistons or any other squad that waged war with the Lakers.
When Johnson recently confirmed to the world that he had tested positive for the HIV virus, he attacked the toughest battle of his life in much the same way he has picked apart defenses for the past twelve years. With dignity and resolve, Johnson vowed to fight his own sickness and to spread the word of safe sex and AIDS awareness to kids. As always, he remains the consummate team player.
"That is truly the way Magic is," said Grove City basketball coach Keith Bell, who has worked with Johnson at various basketball camps. "He is a truly genuine guy. I had the opportunity to do some things with him socially and he is everything he’s cracked up to be."
Over the past few days, Bell has spoken with many of his players about Magic’s announcement.
"They were really devastated, but so was I," The coach said. "But kids can learn from this that terrible things can happen to anyone, even a superstar like Magic.
"I think however, that the way he handled the situation, to go public with it immediately and face the situation head-on, is a good example to kids of how to handle problems in your own life. You can’t run from adversity."
Dublin coach Jon Daup agreed with Bell’s assessment.
"This is obviously a tragic situation. Like everyone involved in the game, I admire Magic a great deal," Daup said. "But a situation like this can produce some good in the fact that kids may realize that AIDS is a very serious disease that can strike anyone."
Magic’s announcement has sent shock waves throughout the sports world on all levels. While every aspect of the situation has been debated in innumerable media coverage for the past two weeks, one thing most people seem to agree on is the need for some sort of AIDS testing for athletes -who run a larger risk of contracting the virus through the transmission of blood.
While the testing of high school athletes is probably a distant possibility, Bell feels it is something we will see.
"I think we’ll have to have it eventually," the coach said. "With a disease as deadly as this, it’s always better to be overly cautious. As more and more people are touched by AIDS, it may become a necessity."
As a basketball player, Magic is gone, but Earvin Johnson lives on, and the contribution he can make to the fight against AIDS has the potential to be great. As the first prominent heterosexual athlete to contract the virus, Johnson’s ability to raise both awareness and funds will be monumental.
"He could do a lot of good," Bell said. "He is such a special person that the public will not ignore him. He has an important message to deliver."
If he’s true to form, that delivery will be right on the money.
Scott Cavanagh is a ThisWeek sportswriter.
Column copyright 2000 Midland Avenue Communications. Reprints without permission are a violation of Federal Law.