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We've had a copy of Jack McCallum's fantastic Dream Team bio in our hands for nearly a month now, and as you'd expect the book is an absolutely brilliant and engaging read. We've been chomping at the bit to send little snippets from the book your way via Ball Don't Lie or Twitter, but we were asked very kindly to back off on releasing excerpts until we were allowed to discuss the book with its author in anticipation of its release on July 10. And, in news I'm giddy to pass along, we will be talking with Jack and detailing the book in greater detail with its author when Dream Team comes out. In the meantime, the folks at Random House have allowed Deadspin to release a snippet of McCallum's book, and us to snip up that snippet. Because what a snippet it is.
In it, Clyde Drexler (who you may know as the guy that annoys the heck out of you while calling Houston Rocket games on League Pass) absolutely destroys Magic Johnson for both his inclusion on the Dream Team, Magic's own play, and Johnson winning the 1992 All-Star Game MVP. I suppose Drexler really is the poor man's Michael Jordan:
"Magic was always..." And Drexler goes into a decent Magic impression: "'Come on, Clyde, come on, Clyde, get with me, get with me,' and making all that noise. And, really, he couldn't play much by that time. He couldn't guard his shadow."
"But you have to have to understand what was going on then. Everybody kept waiting for Magic to die. Every time he'd run up the court everybody would feel sorry for the guy, and he'd get all that benefit of the doubt. Magic came across like, 'All this is my stuff.' Really? Get outta here, dude. He was on the declining end of his career."
Drexler had played exquisitely in the 1992 All-Star Game in Orlando, although the MVP award eventually went to Magic, who had been added by Commissioner Stern as a special thirteenth player to the Western Conference roster. "If we all knew Magic was going to live this long, I would've gotten the MVP of that game, and Magic probably wouldn't have made the Olympic team."
It's true that Johnson's defense was lacking in his final year — A YEAR THAT SAW HIS LAKERS BEAT DREXLER'S TRAIL BLAZERS TO MOVE ON TO THE NBA FINALS — and that the never-speedy Johnson had slowed a bit in his 14 months off following the 1991 Finals and the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, but to call that point in Magic's career "declining" is to use the word technically correct and terribly wrong in so many ways.
At age 31, in his last full year with Los Angeles, Johnson (whose Lakers beat Clyde Drexler's Portland Trail Blazers in the 1991 Western Conference finals) managed a 25 Player Efficiency Rating, a mark that would put him in the top five even in the star-heavy 2011-12 season. He averaged 19.4 points and a combined 19.5 rebounds/assists, and was brilliant in his team's playoff run. A run that included a victory in the Western Conference finals over Clyde Drexler's Portland Trail Blazers.
It's completely true that the public perception of HIV and AIDS has changed considerably in the two decades since. I remember thinking, upon learning of Johnson's diagnosis, that I hoped he lived long enough to make it to the 1992 NBA Finals in June in order to take in one last standing ovation of sorts. Such was the knowledge a good chunk of us (especially 11-year-olds) had about HIV; that not only was it a death sentence, that it was a nearly immediate death sentence. Too many national evening news features and TIME magazine pictorials shaped that thought process.
We're smarter, now. And happily putting the mute on Our Man Magic as he takes over ABC's halftime show 20 years after the 1992 Finals that he more than made it to.
Clyde, though, doesn't appear to be as hung up on that aspect of it. No, it seems Drexler is more perplexed at Johnson's prominence on that team, and losing out on a meaningless MVP award in perhaps the finest All-Star game any of us have ever watched.
And, if you watch tape of that game (save for the final play, where the East's Isiah Thomas sort of lets Magic do his thing) or Johnson's Dream Team teammates guarding him in scrimmages, you can safely determine that Magic's teammates were going at him. The only opponents that weren't, back then, were the same Olympic "combatants" that were asking everyone for their shoes after the game. From Magic to Michael to Mullin to Laettner.
(OK, maybe not Christian Laettner.)
This isn't even getting into Magic's much and needlessly ridiculed return to the NBA in 1995-96, five years after those Lakers were in the Finals. The guy, at age 36 and not in NBA shape, managed a 21 PER and fantastic stats (14.6 points, 12.6 combined rebounds/assists in just 30 minutes per game) for a Laker team that was often out of step with some of his more, um, cerebral instincts. Technically declining, sure. But still pretty fantastic.
(Drexler, three years younger and in better basketball shape, managed a 20 PER in 1995-96.)
You won't come away from reading Jack McCallum's book a big fan of Drexler's, for this and other reasons. And for this, and so many other reasons, you need to be the first in line with a copy when it comes out on July 10.
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