There were many standout moments at Monday's Staples Center news conference commemorating the 20th anniversary of Magic Johnson's retirement, not the least of which was the check for $1 million presented to his foundation. Johnson spoke of that day two decades ago, when he announced HIV would force him out of the game. He spoke of how he coped and the optimism he felt in the face of what many believed a death sentence. He talked about his health, advancements in treatment and the people to whom he feels indebted for helping him stay healthy. Magic thanked his wife and family, and noted the obligations he feels as the face of HIV not only in this country, but abroad.
But on a day filled with remembrances of a landmark moment in American culture and sports history, one small moment best defined the magnetism of Magic. After delivering his speech and fielding questions from the assembled media for more than 20 minutes, Magic invited the former Lakers in the crowd to join him on stage for a picture. Jerry West, Pat Riley, Michael Cooper, James Worthy, Mychal Thompson, Kurt Rambis and Mike Dunleavy. He noticed Lakers trainer Gary Vitti in the crowd, and called him up, too.
"I said all Lakers," Magic instructed.
Quietly, Lakers P.R. director John Black walked past the stage, and whispered something to Magic. "Of course, Bill Sharman," Magic declared, pointing to the legendary former coach and basketball pioneer seated maybe five rows deep. Come on up.
Sharman is 85 years old, and moving from crowd to stage isn't an instant process. It could have been awkward had another man controlled the microphone. Magic, always the floor general, instantly recognized the situation and started into a story about a free-throw shooting competition he once engaged in with Sharman. He hit 15 or 16 in a row, and was summarily dusted when Sharman stepped to the stripe.
It was a quick anecdote, maybe 90 seconds, and I suspect most people won't remember the details. But because Magic so successfully worked the room, they also won't remember the difficulties Sharman had negotiating the steps up to the stage, or the people moving there to help him. Suddenly, he was there in the front row, and the photo op continued.
That's Magic Johnson.