The “Magic” of Friendship and Homophobia
Photo: Rena Durham
Isiah Thomas and Magic Johnson were close throughout their entire NBA careers, so close in fact that Magic actually named a guestroom in his mult-million dollar mansion, “The Isiah Room.”
Then something happened that would alter their friendship forever. In 1991, Magic was diagnosed with HIV. Once the news was made public, everyone reacted. Sponsors dropped him, journalists speculated on how he contracted the disease, and other players avoided him like the plague. It was so awkward before and after games, that Isiah Thomas took it upon himself to show other players, and the world, that it was “nothing but a chicken wing on a string.” In other words, it didn’t matter much to him. He proved this by kissing Magic on the cheek before a game, as he had often done before the two played against one another on the court, soon after Magic had made his diagnosis public. Other players wouldn’t even go near Magic let alone shake his hand, yet Isiah was smooching him directly on the cheek. It was the ultimate show of loyalty and friendship—or at least you would think.
Soon after, their friendship began to deteriorate. In Magic’s new book (which he co-authored with Larry Bird), When the Game Was Ours, he admits to purposely lobbying to keep Isiah off of the 1992 Olympic Dream Team.
Magic claims that Isiah spread rumors about his sexuality throughout the locker room. And the news began to travel fast.
“Isiah kept questioning people about it,” Magic said. “I couldn’t believe that. The one guy I thought I could count on had all these doubts. It was like he kicked me in the stomach.”
Isiah’s response was this: “Why couldn’t he just come talk to me about it.”
You would think, that after all of these years and all of the public appearances the two icons have made together, the issue would have been addressed a long, long time ago. But nothing was said. Suddenly, Magic decides to air it all out in a book.
Publicity stunt? Perhaps.
Is being gay really that horrible of a concept for professional athletes to swallow, that a simple rumor could destroy a lifelong friendship? I’m disappointed in both players. If they were such good friends, then Magic should have approached Isiah and had an open discussion about everything. And Isiah should have kept his mouth just about Magic’s personal life. Even if Magic was gay, no one wants to be “outed.” He should have been given the opportunity to come out on his own.
Basically, what this all comes down to, is this: Magic’s book sales are going to be stellar and homophobia still exists in the NBA.