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Perhaps the only parallels these men had in the '80s were each other. None has ever been accused of spending too much time in the weight room. All three live in California. None is in the honored guests club at the Hazelden drug clinic. None has been suspended.
All three are decent guys. Magic works all summer on a benefit game to raise money—nearly $3 million to date—for the United Negro College Fund. Gretzky refused to do any promotional gigs in conjunction with his alltime point record unless it included a profit split with Gordie Howe; his share was then handed over to charity. In 1987 and 1988, every touchdown pass Montana threw meant a donation to the Crippled Childrens Society of Santa Clara County. The society came out well—Montana threw 49 TDs in those two seasons.
Still, there are basic differences. Magic and Gretzky are perennially all-interview, whereas Montana gets the hives before the microphone. Maybe it's because Montana has been divorced twice and remarried twice and cares not to entertain discussions on same. Montana and Gretzky did the thing living sports legends are supposed to do—marry sex symbols. Montana married the Schick Sheriff from his commercial, Jennifer Wallace, which seemed to be a pretty good match. After all, who had more close shaves in the '80s than Joe Miracle? Together they have two girls and a boy. Gretzky married Janet Jones, the movie star with the body, in a cozy little wedding attended by 2,000 of their closest friends, press, live newscasters and fire departments. They have a girl, Paulina. Magic is the father of one, but he has vowed to stay single until his career is over "and then have lots of kids, maybe six or eight," he says. "Maybe even adopt a few." (Sorry, you must be a kid to enter.)
All three seem to just get better with age. Magic at 30 is as good as Magic at 20. Against Denver in November, he had 24 assists, his NBA best. He even looks younger. He shaved off his trademark goatee—the one that bordered that 64-tooth smile—and now looks 25. Gretzky, a mere 28, is—yawn—leading the league in points. Montana, 33, has reached a proficiency even he didn't know he had. This year his passing rating is far and away the league's best and his career best (he's first in NFL history in the category). If he keeps orbiting along at this level he will set an NFL record for a one-season rating.
Who knows what keeps them going? Somehow they keep convincing themselves, year after year, that there is something left to prove. These days, maybe Magic figures he must show he can win without Kareem, Gretzky without the Oilers, Montana without Walsh.
It could be we might meet them here again in 1999. Gretzky says he will play at least six more years. Montana says he's good for at least three. Magic says he wants to finish the four years he's got left on his contract and then really get to work. He is getting to be a freak about business, sitting in with his agent now on all business deals. He has his own T-shirt company, his own Nintendo game and his own line of clothes, plus a hefty deal with Converse shoes. He's leaving his 8,000-square-foot house for a 13,000-square-foot house. "The old one wasn't big enough," he says with a straight face.
But what he really wants is his own NBA franchise. "I don't want to be a businessman," Magic says. "I want to be the best businessman."
Boy. some people never change.