By Lance Tominaga.
Where were you when you heard that Magic Johnson had contracted HIV, the disease that can lead to AIDS? Johnson made the announcement on Nov. 7, 1991, just days after the start of the NBA regular season. I remember hearing the news on the radio in my second-floor office in downtown Honolulu. Although I wasn’t a Magic Johnson fan at the time, it was crushing news. Magic was one of the greatest basketball players ever, leading the Los Angeles Lakers to five league championships.
And now he was going to die.
Flash forward two years, to the fall of 1993. It was late morning, and I was patiently waiting in line outside Waldenbooks at Pearlridge Center. Magic Johnson was inside the store, signing copies of his recently released memoir, My Life. The line snaked around the aisles and then spilled outside the store, extending along an entire side of the mall. I thought I got there early, but still I was smack dab in the middle of the line.
An hour passed, and I finally made it inside the store. Minutes later, a store employee had the unenviable task of cutting off the line right at the front of the store. She was very apologetic, but you can bet the people who were turned away were plenty disappointed, if not outright upset.
But I was happy. I made the cut.
Magic kept busy in the two years since his shocking announcement. Despite retiring from basketball, fans voted him into the 1992 NBA All-Star Game, where, ever the showman, he earned MVP honors. Later that summer, of course, he took part in the Summer Olympics as a captain on the U.S. Dream Team. Playing alongside former rivals such as Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and Clyde Drexler, Magic captured his first and only Olympic gold medal.
More time passed, until I had finally reached the front of the line. The only person ahead of me was a young local Asian woman wearing white shorts and a pink sweater. She must have been in her early twenties. I watched as she shyly approached the NBA legend and handed him a copy of his book to sign. Magic made some small talk as he signed the book, then returned it to her.
The young woman smiled and thanked Magic. Then she just stood there, cradling the book in her arms, and stared at the famous man in front of her.
And she started to cry.
Silent tears turned to uncontrollable sobs, and the girl still didn’t (couldn’t) move. I’ll never forget what happened next: Magic stood up, walked around the table and wrapped his arms around her.
”Aw, now, don’t cry,” he said. “It’s all right. Don’t cry. You know why? Because if you don’t stop crying, everybody here’s gonna start crying, too.”
Too late. Almost everyone watching the scene was getting a bit misty eyed.
Magic gave the girl another hug and shot her that famous smile of his. That Magic smile. She thanked him again and walked out of the store.
Finally, it was my turn. I walked up to Magic and handed him a copy of My Life.
”Wow,” I said. “That was awesome how you handled that.”
”It’s tough sometimes,” he said, scribbling his signature on on the book’s first page.
He looked up at me and smiled again. “Now, YOU ain’t gonna start crying, too?”
I laughed. Of course not.
I had already witnessed an unforgettable “Magic” moment.”
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