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Ball Don't Lie

Magic Johnson reconciles with Isiah Thomas, tweets that he’s ‘glad we can be friends again’

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas in the 1988 NBA Finals (Getty Images)

It’s just a tweet, a silly characterization of a person’s mood in 140 characters or less, and possibly something we shouldn’t spend more than three seconds considering before moving on to more weightier matters. Like dunks or draft picks in June, I suppose.

Ah, forget that. This is Magic Johnson, possibly the finest point guard to ever play the game of basketball, discussing the possible reconciliation of what was one of the NBA’s great friendships. One between Magic and Isiah Thomas – the player that ran the same position as him, at nearly a foot shorter, working for Magic’s home-state team. Longtime friends, eventual friendly rivals, but also 21-year combatants in the wake of rumored insensitive reactions by Thomas in the wake of Magic’s 1991 HIV diagnosis.

Here’s what Magic sent out on Monday:

Isiah had no reaction on his Twitter feed, which is probably the appropriate response considering the fact that NOT EVERYTHING YOU DO HAS TO HAVE A REACTION ON A TWITTER FEED.

In a more serious realm, you might recall Johnson’s reaction to rumors about Isiah Thomas questioning his sexuality after Magic was diagnosed with HIV in Nov. of 1991. From Jackie MacMullan’s book ‘When the Game Was Ours,’ released in 2009:

"'Isiah kept questioning people about it ... 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.'"

Which is understandable, I suppose. 1991 feels like ages ago, and a lot has changed. Isiah, if the rumors are true, never should have asked around to see if Magic Johnson had contracted the virus through sex with other men.

Then again … who cares, Magic?

It doesn’t matter how you got it. It doesn’t matter if some people thought you were gay, because there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being gay. It’s as ridiculous as freaking out over whether or not people think you’re secretly left-handed.

[Also: Knicks owner reportedly spied on Carmelo Anthony]

You don’t need to “count on” friends trumping up your staunch record of heterosexuality, as creepily evidenced in that Arsenio Hall appearance that we all stayed up to watch a few days after Magic revealed his diagnosis. What you need to count on are friends sticking around as you face the greatest challenge of your life, something a whole hell of a lot bigger than a pair of championship-worthy Detroit Pistons that lined up against you in 1988 and 1989.

It was 1991, though. People, thankfully, don’t cheer athletes for telling them that they’re not gay. Magic’s ill-suited response to his uneasiness was on record, thanks to Arsenio Hall’s cameras. Isiah’s was never on record, but he never did much two decades ago by way of denying asking around to see if Magic Johnson was bisexual.

And also, 25 and a half years later, can we address the whole “kissing before the game”-thing?

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Buck and Zeke (Getty Images)

Kevin Durant can’t work out for an afternoon with LeBron James without his competitive spirit being questioned by a whole load of idiots, so how incredibly brave and cool was it for Isiah and Magic to peck cheeks before tip-off in the 1988 and 1989 NBA Finals? Reminding us (and this is at the peak of the personal competitive careers, forget Larry Bird, because Magic was attempting to sustain his relevance and Isiah was attempting to knock the kings off the throne) that there were things bigger than this game.

In lieu of a Twitter response from Isiah, we should pass this quote on, taken from an Ian Thomsen interview with Thomas from a few years back after Magic’s frustrations came out in MacMullan’s book:

"What most people don't know is, before Magic had HIV, my brother had HIV,'' Thomas said. "My brother died of HIV, AIDS, drug abuse. So I knew way more about the disease, because I was living with it in my house.''

His brother, Gregory Thomas, died [in 2004], Isiah said.

"Magic acted and responded off some really bad information that he got,'' Thomas went on. "Whatever friendship we had, I thought it was bulls--- that he believed that. Let me put it to you this way: If he and I were such close friends, if I was questioning his sexuality, then I was questioning mine too. That's how idiotic it is.''

That’s completely and totally fair, assuming Isiah never spread rumors back in 1991. And it turns Magic into the bad guy, especially when you consider the fact that for years leading up to the release of MacMullan’s book that Magic and Isiah routinely dined out (with longtime Knicks assistant coach and Big Ten combatant Herb Williams in tow) with Magic, picking up the pieces of the fractured relationship in the new millennium. For Johnson to share his frustrations in a book instead of during countless face to face meetings with Thomas was probably a little unnerving for Isiah.

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Magic and Isiah during the 2004 NBA Finals (Getty Images)

Then again, maybe don’t ask your agent (Isiah and Magic shared the same one, in Lon Rosen) if your buddy is bisexual when you can call him yourself. We weren’t text-crazy back in 1991, but Ma Bell still made those Detroit-to-Los Angeles landlines work.

The preceding 600 or so words were sad, and a little enervating. The ones that hit before the jump, including Magic’s tweet, were warming. Unlike Larry Bird, who has faded to the background following his handing of the Indiana Pacers over to Donnie Walsh last summer, Magic and Isiah are quite visible. On TV, on Twitter, always willing to talk things up on record. A public reconciliation, following a private conversation publicized (but hopefully not betrayed) by Twitter can’t help but be good for the game.

And Buck. And Zeke.

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