As usual, life made no sense last week in Los Angeles, where the Lakers signed a 36-year-old has-been point guard, has-been announcer, has-been coach and has-been owner who has been off NBA courts for almost five seasons; is 30 pounds over his playing weight; runs like a man with bunions; couldn't leap a tall juice glass; favors a James Naismith-era, flat-footed, shot put heave for a jumper; and, oh, yes, is HIV positive.
Yet grown men in Armani suits waited an hour outside the arena doors just for a glimpse of him. Women begged to kiss him. The newspapers played it Page One, above the fold. Giddy scalpers were suddenly asking $10,000 for four tickets. Movie stars hopped chartered jets from the East Coast just to say they were courtside. Sharon Stone couldn't get tickets.
Police precincts reported random outbreaks of euphoria. Vice presidents of reputable accounting firms closed their office doors and beat on their desks in joy. One longtime fan in suburban Downey screamed so loud at the news that his kids cried.
Time and Newsweek both photographed him for their covers. Interview requests came in a blizzard. World interest was so bonkers that distinguished writers were forced to sit in the arena's rafters and type by the light of electric billboards. USA Basketball was already thinking about putting the man on the 1996 U.S. Olympic-team—after one game.
And when this guy finally made a basket, you would have thought D.B. Cooper had walked into the joint. He took a feed from teammate Cedric Ceballos, drove in nonchalantly from the right side and threw in a little scoop you have seen a thousand times. The Forum, once again Fabulous, quaked, as strobes bathed him in exploding light and reporters scribbled madly in their notebooks.
There were still 15 minutes to go before tip-off.
You think maybe this Earvin (Magic) Johnson meant something to people?
"I feel like Louis Armstrong when he saw Dolly," said longtime Lakers broadcaster Chick Hearn before the game. " 'It's so nice to have you back where you belong.' "
Well, not entirely. Johnson is a power forward now, not a point guard. For the first time since the fifth grade, he is not starting. On the break he dishes to guys named Blount and Lynch, not Wilkes and Worthy. Most of the cast and crew of Showtime are gone, and Dancing Barry has left the building for good.
Magic plays as if he's lefthanded now, at least when he's using the hook shot Kareem Abdul-Jabbar bequeathed to him. He seems to shoot the trey uglier and higher but better now. And his old driver's-license picture probably wouldn't stand up as an I.D. anymore, seeing how his forehead is annexing a little more of his hairline. His arms are approaching massive, and his stomach isn't that brick street it used to be. But that megawatt smile could still drain Boulder Dam. And those hands still get the ball to open men before they even know they are open. Those legs still come whirling like a Roto-Rooter through the lane.