It was a Magical era
By Eric Neel
Page 2 columnist

I loved Reggie Smith and his kiss-the-sky stance. I loved Fred Brown floating and falling away, the Doctor doing funky ballet, and the sloppy, scattered twist of Fernando.

Magic Johnson
Magic Johnson was named Finals MVP three times.

I loved Steve Largent slipping over the middle and Ray Leonard flashing quick leather against Benitez and Hearns. And I loved the wild mane and outlet passing of Bill Walton in '77.

But my deepest, truest love was Magic.

It was little things: the easy, old-man jaunt he did for pregame introductions; the smile that said it was a game and the stare that said it was mortal combat; the brave push of passes into spaces that weren't even there when he let go; the way the ball seemed to hover just beneath his fingertips like the attraction was magnetic and mutual; and the constant feeling that he was too big and slow and grounded to be as smooth, subtle and fun as he was.

It was big things, too: five titles, three MVPs, 12 All-Star games; epic battles with Bird and Isiah; the hook across the lane in '87; and the big 42-15-7 night against Philly as a rookie in 1980.

I was 12 years old then. We lived on a busy street, across from a Cal Worthington car lot and a drive-in theater. When the game was over, I stood out on the median in the middle of the street, holding a purple-and-gold No. 32 sign I'd painted earlier that day over my head, beaming. Cars cruised by honking. People shouted. Two girls in tank tops leaned out the window of an El Camino and blew me kisses. The night air seemed to wrap itself around me, and Magic's night popped and pulsed in my blood. I stood there for what felt like a long time, letting the street lights blur and the sounds bounce; letting myself feel the rush.

Page 2's heroes
  • Ralph Wiley on Allen Iverson
  • Brian Murphy on Joe Montana
  • Jim Caple on Charlie Brown
  • Jason Whitlock on Reggie Miller
  • Tim Keown on Roberto Clemente
  • Patrick Hruby on the Zebras
    ,li>Dan Shanoff on Gary Barnett
  • Later, on the driveway out behind our house, I dribbled and shot in the dark, trying to recreate Magic's moves. I'd been so nervous when the night began -- no Kareem, fate of the Laker world resting on Magic's young shoulders, etc. -- but he'd been so cool.

    I was cool now, too; channeling him, moving the way he moved, cutting long and fearless toward the bucket and whipping passes against the stucco side of the house.

    To this day, when I want to find my strongest, smartest, most creative and confident self, I go back to that night. I go back to Magic.

    Eric Neel is a regular columnist for Page 2.



    Eric Neel Archive

    Readers' greatest sports heroes

    Caple: Heroes & villains

    The List: Greatest sports heroes

    Page 2: Holding out for a hero

    Email story
    Most sent
    Print story

    espn Page 2 index