I was 8 years old.
Today you're going to hear poetic wax spit about arguably one of the most shocking press conferences of all-time. The day that Magic Johnson announced to the world that he had contracted the HIV virus, and that he'd be taking his talents...home. My mother openly cried. My Uncle Bill was at a loss for words, which is unfathomable. I remember truly not understanding what was going on, what HIV meant, or the ramifications of the announcement...other than #32 in forum blue and gold wasn't going to be hooping anymore.
To be fair, I was just truly learning about the game of basketball at eight years old. It was the only time I'd ever openly root for the Lakers, outside of the Nick Van Exel/Eddie Jones era, but that interest was rooting in the phenomena that was Showtime. In actuality, I was just learning how to love basketball. Now, one of basketball's greatest curators was being taken away from me.
Its a shame too, because we were ready to see Magic be revered by a generation of players who all wanted to be...him.
So lets just consider this a series of what if's...shall we? Cool.
What If Scenario #1: What if the Lakers retooled instead of rebuilt?
After 11/7/91, the Lakers season was in disarray. With Magic in 1990-91, the Lakers won 58 games and went to the NBA Finals before ultimately falling to the Chicago Bulls. It seemed that the power had officially been shifted from Magic to Jordan.
NBA Finals 1991 Chicago Bulls vs Los Angeles Lakers by Basketevolution
In 1991-92? 43 wins. In just two seasons, Mike Dunleavy was out as coach (replaced by someone named Randy Pfund) even though he was dealt a different set of cards than what he originally expected. The Lakers also drafted at No. 15 and went for a need pick (Anthony Peeler) instead of drafting for value at the bottom of the draft. If they won a similar amount of games, they could've drafted No. 24. You want to know who was sitting there at No. 24?
Latrell Fontaine Sprewell.
With Dunleavy's offense, a young gunner in Sprewell and the veteran wing in James Worthy...could you imagine? Vlade helping out playing point center and Magic still being Magic...Lakers fans heads just melted. I'm sorry.
What If Scenario #2: If Magic doesn't retire, does Larry Bird retire in '92?
In the Magic & Bird: A Courtship of Rivals documentary, once Larry heard that Magic retired he said that his desire to play the game dwindled. Funny, in Larry's final season he put up 20/10/7 in 45 injury-ravaged games. Bird's issues with his back are damn near legendary, dude couldn't even practice in '91-92 and still balled. Couldn't practice with the Dream Team in Barcelona but was still an unquestioned leader.
Bird was 35, but one or two more years with the old grunts Parish and McHale along with the youth movement led by Reggie Lewis (21 ppg in '91-92) they could've been interesting to watch. Knowing Bird, and that talent he might've tried to gut it out until 37 or 38.
What If Scenario #3: Magic vs. Sir Charles for Western Conference supremacy
For the 1991-92 season, Charles Barkley changed his number from No. 34 to No. 32 in honor of Magic. Then in 1992-93 he jumped ship from Philadelphia to Phoenix in the Western Conference. Once Barkley aligned with Kevin Johnson, Dan Majerle and the Paul Westphal youth movement the Suns were title contenders. If 11/7/91 never happens, could you imagine the wars between Phoenix and Los Angeles? Everyone remembers the iconic photos of young Jordan checking Magic, could you imagine a crazed Barkley checking Magic? Goosebumps.
What If Scenario #4: Does Magic own the assist record instead of John Stockton?
John Stockton played 18 seasons in the NBA, lasting as an elite point guard until the age of 40. Retiring as the assist king Stockton finished with 15,806 career assists, passing Magic's then-record in the process. Magic played in 11.1 seasons (including the 22 games in 95-96) and finished with 10,141. If Magic plays up until the 1995-96 season uninterrupted and continues on his pace of averaging 11.2 assists/game (no reason to think he wouldn't, he averaged over 11.2 for the past 8 seasons) he finishes up with 14,733 at age 36.
Who knows if he actually plays past 36.
What If Scenario #5: If Magic doesn't leave on 11/7/91, is the influence of Jordan lessened?
Not that Jordan wouldn't still be insanely influential, but players of the 90's had been influenced a ton by the Magic Johnson they grew up watching in the 80's. Big men wanted to handle the rock like never before...Chris Webber truly believed he was Magic. Anfernee Hardaway was billed as the second coming of Magic. Passing the ball was cool, and the point guards of the 90's reflected that mantra. John Stockton, Jason Kidd, Mark Jackson and Rod Strickland are just a few examples.
Does a young Kobe Bryant skew his game a bit more to Magic?
Does a young LeBron wear the No. 32 instead of the No. 23 in Cleveland?
(go get a drink, its only going to get better)
What If Scenario #6: Does Magic Johnson go down as unquestionably the greatest basketball player of all-time?
I'm not even going to write anything about this one, I'll just let you the reader think about it...
Today, the Magic Johnson foundation has declared it Point Forward day. Be enlightened.