You can flood the stadium floor with 19,000 people. You can fill the sky above with lightning and thunder and smoke and jets and blimps and ka-booms. You can shell out $28 million, lay out 12½ miles of cable, pump out 2,350,000 watts of electricity and roll out 112 giant inflatables, 317 musicians and an 8,861-square-yard flag to open an Olympics.
But you don't really have to do all that.
You can have Magic Johnson drop by instead.
"The greatest festival of our contemporary society is about to begin," proclaimed Juan Antonio Samaranch, president of the International Olympic Committee, into the Olympic Stadium microphone last Saturday night in Barcelona. Onto the stage of the greatest festival of contemporary society walked a 6'9" basketball player carrying a deadly virus and a massive grin—and the show was his.
He was one athlete amid a mass of American runners and leapers and swimmers and gymnasts and cyclists who strode into the stadium under the threat of banishment from the Summer Games by U.S. Olympic Committee officials. "They told us that they would study the videotapes of the parade," said 1,500- and 3,000-meter runner PattiSue Plumer, "and that anybody caught doing anything to attract attention couldn't compete."
Eliminated were the Mickey Mouse ears, windshield-wiper sunglasses and Hi Mom camera-mugging that had upset officials at the 1988 opening ceremonies in Seoul. But there was nothing anyone could do about Magic's smile. Flanked by all but four other members of the Dream Team, he joked and waved and hand-slapped his way around the Olympic Stadium, the TV cameramen stumbling past the world's finest athletes in their rush to reach him, the tension between that grin and that virus somehow washing him onto the shores of an even grander, more tantalizing celebrityhood. He took his place on the infield, on the edge of the track, and then a remarkable thing happened. In front of 65,000 spectators and 3.5 billion TV viewers, the world began fighting to touch a man who is HIV-positive.
Silent, shy, introverted? Who, the women of the Chinese Olympic team? They fought and pushed their way through the U.S. team to get near Magic. French athletes mounted each other's shoulders to snap his photograph, Belizeans ducked and dodged the volunteers who linked arms to protect him. Brazilians in white-and-blue sweat suits, Senegalese in ankle-length brown robes, Egyptians in yellow sport coats and Americans in white panama hats surged toward him, fireflies gleefully offering their glimmer to the greater cause of his aura. "I did it!" exulted Belizean cyclist Douglas Lamb later. "I followed the stream to him! I got his picture! It is the next-best thing to winning a medal. But no, this will not be enough to satisfy all the people at home. I will need to take more pictures, better pictures of Magic Johnson."
But Magic could not give all his attention to the crush of athletes filling the infield behind him, for something else had happened. He had become the parade's alternate review stand. Each national contingent that entered the stadium turned to its right to wave to Samaranch, French president François Mitterrand, Spanish president Felipe González, African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela and King Juan Carlos of Spain. Then, almost immediately, the athletes turned to their left to wave to Magic, to break ranks, slap hands and pose for pictures with him.
Somehow it was reassuring to discover that, on a floodlighted stage full of flag-haggling and hype, fighter jets and robots, pyrotechnics, pomp and politicians, a man with an easy grin and a pretty hook shot was the most fascinating item of all. But a vague uneasiness was beginning to spread among some of the U.S. athletes.
"We love Magic and the Dream Team," said Plumer. "But they have their day in the sun 82 days a year, and we have only one day to shine. The cameras used to go to all of us during opening ceremonies, but now they go straight to them. We're not mad at the Dream Team or Magic. We're mad at the media.... Yeah, I think I got a good shot of Magic. If I didn't, my husband will kill me."