One For The Money
Two decades ago in Orlando, a retired Magic Johnson put on an All-Star performance that will be remembered forever.
The next day, All-Star Sunday, Magic Johnson was the last player announced during the pre-game introductions. Afterward, Isiah Thomas walked over, kissed and embraced him. The rest of the East All-Stars then lined up to greet Johnson.
Quinn Buckner (Announcer): People were interested to see how his teammates would interact with him. I think the Isiah thing was really important. They always kissed before a game. I thought that was a great gesture. Isiah’s and Magic’s interaction at that time was important, not just for basketball but for life. You get a lot more casual fans at All-Star Games, and I thought that said something to the casual fans about how this fraternity feels about one of its own.
Thomas: The disease was already in my household and I would hug and kiss my brother every time I saw him. We had a chance to educate the world on a public stage and break down a lot of the stereotypes and phobias about HIV.
Hornacek: When we came out of that locker room and went to the court, I think all [Magic’s] worries at that time disappeared; he was playing the game he loved. It was horrible to see his career come to an end. For one night to see him go out there and see him play the way we thought he would and not skip a beat.
Thomas: You knew he would be great. He kept himself in great shape and loved to play the game. But I remember him being very nervous because of the venom and animosity coming from some players who didn’t want him to participate.
Price: I think everybody couldn’t believe how well he was playing. Everyone was glad to see him play so well because that was the Magic everybody remembered playing against.
Johnson [from When the Game Was Ours]: I made a nice pass and guys were saying, Oh, I remember him. He’s still Magic. It calmed everyone down. After that, it was just basketball.
Dan Majerle (All-Star, Phoenix Suns): I was his last assist. I was on the baseline, my guy turned his head, I cut back door and Magic fed me a beautiful pass. I remember going up and thinking, Am I going to dunk this? What am I doing? It was just, Don’t miss this shot, so I laid it up. It was a great pass and the last thing I wanted to do was do something crazy so I just laid it in.
The game was a blowout, with the West prevailing 153-113. The final minutes, however, were riveting. Isiah and Michael Jordan took turns going one-on-one with Johnson, and then Magic closed the game by hitting three straight three pointers. With 25 points, 9 assists and 5 rebounds, Johnson was named MVP.
Hornacek: It seemed like it was scripted. It was perfect: Let him go against Isiah and then let Michael get a shot at him. I don’t think they could have drawn it up any better.
Thomas: The All-Star Game is about having a good show, not only for the fans, but we wanted it to be a good show for Magic. Myself, Jordan, we wanted to make sure it ended right for Magic. And the fans enjoyed it.
Mike Fratello (Announcer): It was eerie, but in the end when he took that last shot, we were in line. We could see when it left his hand, this is going in. It wasn’t off-left or off-right, it was dead center when it left his hand.
Willis: The big shot at the end? I was on the court. That capped it off really smooth. That’s Magic though. That’s Magic.
Drexler: Magic had those three threes at the end. How many points did he have, 25? If he finished the game with 16 points I don’t think he gets the MVP [laughs]. That was the year they probably should have given it to me and Magic—[Drexler had 22 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists]—but because there was so much sentiment for him and people didn’t think he was going to be around…Had I known he was going to be around, I wouldn’t have passed him the ball at the end. I would have kept my MVP. Tell Magic If I had known he was going to live this long, I wouldn’t have passed him the ball at the end [laughs]. I would have kept my MVP. I’m joking. At the time, we were all just wishing Magic the best and trying to do what we could to boost his spirits.
Hardaway: I enjoyed every minute of that weekend. I enjoyed just being with him and seeing that famous smile. Every time I see that game, I smile, laugh and chuckle a little bit, but it also brings tears to my eyes because I missed watching him play.
Johnson: That game helped change the perception of HIV all over the world. People watching it said, “It’s OK. He can do this.”
Photos courtesy of NBAE/Getty