NBA players and owners have agreed to a handshake deal that should – in theory – end the NBA lockout and ensure that an abbreviated season will start next month. The agreement was struck in the wee hours of Saturday morning and still needs a heck of a lot of massaging before it can be considered anything that resembles an official, enforceable contract. Still, the handshake deal certainly represents a very significant development in the ongoing labor strife.
Millionaires and billionaires certainly agree: basketball fans can now rejoice. The holidays came early, the “nuclear winter” has been averted and the season is hereby saved. It’s a Christmas miracle, Charlie Brown.
I know some folks are really excited, but the NBA lost me long before it became a reality television show starring LeBron James, before Ron Artest and Stephen Jackson climbed into the stands and assaulted fans, and before ex-referee Tim Donaghy was investigated for influencing the outcome of games and successfully prosecuted for federal crimes. It’s probably not a surprise that I find the latest development about as enthralling as the completion of a reverse triangular corporate merger, a private offering of a preferred class of restricted stock, or the inherent joy associated with the application of innovative accounting standards to the depreciation of new or unique assets.
In other words, I weep for the current generation of hoops fans if this is their defining moment of professional basketball. Personally, I’m having obvious difficulty appreciating the significance of the parties agreeing to apportion vast amounts of money – especially when the timing of the billion dollar development coincides with the anniversary of a truly transcendent moment for sports. And humanity.
On November 7, 1991 – twenty years before yesterday’s agreement – Ervin “Magic” Johnson appeared on television announced to the world that he was HIV-positive. At that time, I was just another somewhat pudgy kid who followed the game when I wasn’t tossing airballs from the chalk-marked free throw line in the driveway. I was a also little too young to have followed Magic in his glory days, but I certainly knew that he was a legend. And I certainly could appreciate the significance of the announcement: this legend wasn’t immortal, and he was going to die. Soon.
This was, after all, a time when the country was slowly being introduced to the existence of HIV and AIDs. We didn’t necessarily know much about the condition or the disease, except for soundbites and talking points that intimidated us and scared us and terrified us. Magic quickly learned that we were a very nervous nation and that nobody – even legends and heroes and celebrities – were immune from this social and cultural confusion. His teammates quickly questioned his participation in the all-star game and rivals expressed public concern about playing against him. Heck, at least one country contemplated a boycott of the Olympics instead of taking the court against Magic and the rest of the Dream Team.
And, somewhere in the background, we were certain that Magic was going to die. Soon.
Except that somebody forgot to tell Magic. Instead, in his own cool, quiet and collective manner, he told us that he “plan[ned] on going, on living for a long time.” He told us that he wasn’t going to run or hide but instead planned to “keep going on with [his] life.” Instead of withdrawing from society or hiding from the problems, Magic courageously took the initiative to confront the issue, to encourage a national conversation about the epidemic:
And I will now become a spokesman for the HIV virus because I want people — young people to realize that they can practice safe sex. And you know sometimes you’re a little naive about it and you think it could never happen to you. You only thought it could happen to, you know, other people and so on and all. And it has happened, but I’m going to deal with it and my life will go on. And I will be here, enjoying the Laker games, and all the other NBA games around the country. So, life is going to go on for me, and I’m going to be a happy man.
It was, in a way, almost unbelievable. Magic’s immortality was shattered, he was facing certain death, he was the subject of the scrutiny and fears of his peers and the macabre events were unfolding on a national stage. Yet here was Magic, calmly demonstrating an almost tangible sense of leadership and stoically planning to make the world a little bit better.
And yet he’s still alive. Twenty years later, after the discussion has shifted from the dangers of life-threatening conditions to the apportionment of billions of dollars, Magic is still alive. And I still believe in the immortality of legends.
Anyways, I realize that I probably come across as old and jaded when I reflect upon these historic events. That’s okay, and I’m sure that I’ll evolve into one of those guys who lectures youth about the good ‘ol days, when I had to walk miles to and from school, uphill both ways, in sub-thermal temperatures, without shoes. Did I mention that we couldn’t afford gloves and that I needed to carry a warm potato just to keep frostbite from settling into my extremities? It’s true. I promise.