Monday, January 27, 2014

Magic, Still Kicking

When I was but a boy, middle school started in 5th grade.  Things were different in Memorial Middle School: an earlier start time, gym every day, and a new type of health class.

Gone was the in-class instruction done by a short haired woman teaching from a cart: now, in the big leaves, was instruction done in the health room by a short haired woman teaching from a cart!  The message had changed too.  We no longer talked about having lots of veggies and how cigarettes can make your lungs turn black.

Instead, there was a new whisper in the wind: s-e-x.  And, in the early 1990s, there was a new crypt keeper in town: AIDS, which, as it turned out, wasn't just for those types anymore.  Anyone could get it.  Get it and die.  AIDS, we were told by the curly-haired health teacher who smoked cigarettes by the carton in her car, would take you from the prime of your life and wipe it all away... to nothingness!  And who was the poster child for such loss?

Irving "Magic" Johnson.  He was, we were told, perpetually about to die.  Coincidentally (or not), white, upper middle class health teachers also found in him the perfect stereotype of lust: an inner city black man whose aspirations were always physical.  (No matter that grew up in a stable, two income, two parent home in the state capital, nor that his goal when entering college was to get a degree.  Such things were not a concern to health teachers at the time.)

Now, because health teachers are generally the least ambitious of the entire profession ("Oh, I want to talk to my coworkers today.  Dodgeball, everyone!  Tweet!"), we heard the same message each year: Magic Johnson Will Die!  Soon!!  To be fair, there was precious little in terms of AIDS research at the time.  This was, if you'll remember, a time concurrent with Ryan White and the start of public figures wearing red ribbons; a bit of confusion was to be expected.

Nonetheless, here we are an astonishing twenty one years later.  Middle school me would doubtless be surprised to hear that Magic is alive.  He did not die during the 1992 NBA All-Star Game (where he played, despite numerous players being concerned about him being either gay or about to spontaneously shoot AIDS upon then), but rather one the MVP and the game. He has been a partial owner of the Lakers, in charge of his own $700 million dollar business called Magic Johnson Enterprises, and now is part of the Dodgers ownership group.  (Perhaps Admiral Piet can supply the figures as to how many other baseball teams have partial ownership by a black man, a further note on how things have changed since 1947.)

It is probably fair to say that at age 59, Magic Johnson will likely die somewhat earlier than would have been his appointed time, and that it will likely be due to having contracted HIV.  (Back in those heady days of middle school, a minor distinction was made between HIV and AIDS, as when you caught the former, you'd catch the latter soon enough, we were told.)  Nonetheless, his life has been far from the racially-tinged story of woe told over and over to me and my middle school peers.

Hop on your Delorean and go ask me at age 11.  If you told me he was still kicking in 2012, I'd say it was like magic.

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