I don't know about you, but every now and then I get into conversations (often on commuter trains, in my case) with other sports fans in which someone will ask, "So who are your top three sports heroes?" Well, that's pretty easy for me because -- as an old guy -- mine have been carved in stone for quite some time.
No. 1? That's the greatest professional basketball player ever -- Bill "How many rings do you have?" Russell. How does a Baptist preacher's kid in Texas end up as a fanatic fan of the greatest Boston Celtic of all time? His original autobiography was at the local library.
Anyway, I started with this overture because Earvin "Magic" Johnson is near the top of my top 10 and, honestly, I have him No. 2 on my hoops list. Yes, above Michael Jordan and Oscar "Big O" Robertson may top Jordan, as well. I tend to favor guys who made every man on their teams better.
So I know quite a bit about Magic and his story. I've read most of the major long-reads and watched most of the documentaries. I know that he lived a very, very wild life that fueled all kinds of rumors when the HIV bomb hit. Where were you when you heard that news? I was in a parking lot at Denver Seminary, trying to find tissues in my car.
Did you see Magic's second act coming? Like his buddy Arsenio Hall said, were you expecting Johnson to just "shrivel up" and die? But man has he lived! And in their recent Sportsman of the Year issue, the editors at Sports Illustrated gave Magic its "legacy" award for excellence and service above and beyond (and then some).
The actual profile is behind a firewall, but here is a crucial passage, with tons of information about Johnson that most fans know:
It's 23 years after the worst day of his life, and Magic is back on his path. MJE, a multi-tentacled conglomerate that focuses on products and services for minority communities, has an asset value of $1 billion. The Magic Johnson Foundation, which he started soon after he discovered he was infected, backs a host of initiatives, including minority scholarships, community empowerment centers and, most prominently, HIV/AIDS education, to which Johnson, through his business and foundation, has given about $15 million. As for Magic Johnson himself, he is happy (albeit horrendously over-scheduled) and by all accounts, including his doctor's, healthy. He gives freely from his own pocket, bestowing millions upon others, his church and Michigan State, his alma mater.
He is the father of three, grandfather of two and husband of one -- Cookie, who was his bride of nine weeks when he announced that he was HIV positive.
Now, in that summary, was there anything that surprised you, especially since we are talking about a "legacy" award linked to actions of service and charity?
Church? Magic is active in a church, backing it with time and money? Does that mean that Johnson is a professing Christian believer? Might that fact about him deserve a sentence, maybe even two? Might this have something to do with the amazing turnaround in his life and (many would say) his character? Maybe this is a factor in the stunning second half of his life?
Might we at least know the name of the church? Well, in an online mini-feature about the feature, there is an interesting clip that appears to be from the article I just quoted, only with a small difference from the official ink-on-paper version:
As for Magic Johnson himself, he is happy (albeit extremely over-scheduled) and by all accounts, including his doctor’s, healthy. He gives freely from his own pocket, two examples being $5 million to his church, The West Angeles Church of God in Christ, and $2 million to his alma mater, Michigan State, where he holds a special place as Alpha Alumnus. “If Magic never gave a dime back,” says Mark Hollis, State’s athletic director, “it would still be impossible to overrate his importance to this institution.”
So what is the West Angeles Church of God in Christ? It's a massive and I mean massive Pentecostal Christian megachurch. You can look it up.
Worth mentioning? I think so. An unusual fact that would surprise many Magic Johnson fans? I would think so.