6 feet 9 inches…

Posted by on Nov-14-2009

After writing about Dhyan Chand I think I should write about another one of my idols.

There is something else that makes me nostalgic other than ‘Summer Palace’, my home. It’s the basketball ground at the Marine Institute. If someone asks me what I would become if I weren’t a mariner I would answer ‘a basketball player’. When my classmates filled the walls of their hostel rooms with posters of screen divas, I just had one- that of a basketball player (Raziya says I removed the females after I fell in love with her. Don’t listen).

At the bottom of that poster a quote by him was written– “You’re the only one who can make the difference. Whatever your dream is, go for it.”

He rocked the ground much before I started playing the game. He played at a position reserved for smaller player, at point guard. Amazed watching his passing, his dribbling skills and ball-handling technique the world of sports added the world ‘Magic’ to his name. Thus Earvin Johnson became Magic Johnson.

He was born in 1959 in Michigan, US.  He first played organized basketball at Everett High School. He led Michigan State University to the collegiate championship in 1979 and led the NBA Los Angeles Lakers to five championships in the 1980s.

At 6′ 9″, he was the biggest point guard in the NBA. He used his height to rebound and score inside. He was best known for his creative passing and expert floor leadership. In his career he scored 17,707 points, retrieved 6,559 rebounds and made 10,141 assists.  He was a member of the USA’s “Dream Team,” gold medalists in the 1992 Olympics. He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. He was named Most Valuable Player three times (1987, 1989, 1990). His enthusiasm for basketball and flashy play made him a crowd favorite and one of the most popular faces of the NBA.

But this post is not about the statistics of a player, or the trophies and medals he had kissed.

In November 1991, during a routine physical examination Johnson found out that he was a carrier of the HIV virus, that he is an AIDS patient. His carefree lifestyle and celebrity status had betrayed him.  The Lakers team physician advised Johnson to quit basketball immediately in order to safeguard his threatened immune system. Johnson shocked not just the American people but the entire sports world by publicly announcing that he is HIV-positive.

But he became a spokesman for AIDS awareness. “I want kids to understand that safe sex is the way to go” he said in an interview. “Sometimes we think only gay people can get HIV, or that it’s not going to happen to me. Here I am. And I’m saying it can happen to anybody, even Magic Johnson.”

In the year 1991, when AIDS was not considered as a serious threat, his revelations helped spread awareness about the health condition. In a press conference he made a public announcement that he would retire immediately. He stated that his wife Cookie and their unborn child did not have HIV, and that he would dedicate his life to “battle this deadly disease”. A hero was born out of a sports star overnight.

President George Bush appointed Johnson to the National Commission on AIDS, but he resigned to protesting against the lack of support for AIDS research. Johnson continued to speak out and literally raised millions for research to combat the disease. He founded the Magic Johnson Foundation for HIV/AIDS education and coauthored What You Can Do To Prevent AIDS.

Though Johnson announced his retirement from the game, he returned in 1992 and again in 1996. In 1992, Johnson went to Barcelona, Spain, as a member of the United States’ basketball team in the 25th Summer Olympics. Dubbed the “Dream Team,” by sports journalists, the American entry also included NBA stars like Michael Jordan and Larry Bird. Winning the gold medal was cake walk for them. He received standing ovations from the crowd, and used the opportunity to inspire HIV-positive people. But Johnson cited the other players’ concerns about the possibility of being infected while playing and his desire to stay healthy for his family.

In 1996 Magic Johnson came back to the L. A. Lakers, this time as a power forward and not a point guard. But soon he announced his retirement, this time for ever.

Johan turned his enthusiasm and leadership skills to business and built his own business empire. He endorsed products, licensed use of his name, gave corporate speeches for big fees and the team owned by him played exhibition games against foreign basketball. He also hosted TV shows. Among his successes, he developed movie theaters and shopping malls in poor and neglected sections of large cities where no one else would invest. Johnson partnered with Sony to open the 12-screen Magic Theatres multiplex in a predominantly black section of Los Angeles and the project became a huge success. His company, Johnson Development went on to buy entire shopping centers in poor communties in Las Vegas and Los Angeles.

He was optimism personified. Johnson believed that the right combination of medicine, diet, and exercise would help him to survive until a cure for AIDS was found.

“Magic is who I am on the basketball court. Earvin is who I am.” – Magic Johnson

The height of a man…

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