The Magic of Sports
by Charles Messina
When I was ten years old, I believed in Magic. Johnson. I loved basketball and the Lakers, and I worshipped Magic. I wanted to be him. I passed like him, shot like him, dribbled like him, or at least I thought I did. When Magic hurt his knee and gimped, I even gimped like him. He was a 6 foot 9 inch point guard out of Michigan State. I was a 4 foot 6 two guard out of St. Anthony’s elementary school, living 3,000 miles away from the sunshine of LA and the Great Western Forum. No matter. He was the man. I stayed up late every other night in the ’80s to watch Lakers games that started at 10pm Eastern Standard Time and ended when I should have been well into my ninth dream. When I did finally fall asleep, I dreamed I could grow up and become the starting point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers. I dreamed of Magic, and as kids should, I believed it could come true.
Flash forward 30 years. I’m a father. I have a ten year old son, and like so many things that are passed down from generation to generation, fandom is one of them. My boy Ethan roots for his Lakers, just the way his purple and gold bleeding Dad does. We bond over sports, like many fathers and sons do. Our loyalties skew westward – Lakers, Niners. We do like the Yankees. I mean, we’re not that crazy. Sports is a common language we speak. Ethan knows the game as well as, or better, than I do. When we talk about sports, we share opinions, numbers, hunches. Most importantly, we share quality time over a common interest. Ethan has his own version of Magic and his name is Kobe Bryant.
I was never fortunate enough to meet Magic in person. My Dad, who was not a sports fan, did take me to a Lakers-Knicks game at Madison Square Garden on December 17, 1985. We sat in the nose bleeds. Lakers won, 115-109. Magic had 18 points, 12 assists, 8 rebounds and 2 steals. That’s the closest I ever got to him. On December 13, 2012, I took Ethan to see the Lakers-Knicks game at the Garden. Ethan received one small perk that I never had as a kid. He got to go backstage. Ethan got to be a part of the Lakers’ fan tunnel and greet the team as they came out onto the court. Standing in the wings of the Garden we saw Spike Lee, decked out in his retro Bernard King jersey. Woody Allen walked by. Stephen A. Smith rubbed Ethan’s head. Then Ethan went courtside, in his Kobe home jersey. He put his hand out to greet the Lakers as they rushed out onto the court and they slapped it as they ran by. Very cool stuff when you’re 10. Pretty cool at 40 also, as I stood by watching, grinning, and fiddling with my iPhone to record it all. But one thing was missing, no Kobe. He didn’t come out onto the court.
Ethan was led back into the fan tunnel. A very kind Knicks’ cheerleader let him stay there and wait to see Kobe. But after a few minutes, we were told that if Kobe didn’t come out, we would have to leave the area as the game was going to start. Then moments later we were told we had only about 30 seconds left. If Kobe didn’t come out soon, Ethan wouldn’t get to see him. Then this happened…
Ethan got to see Kobe, and he slapped his hand. What you don’t see in this video, because I was too excited to continue to record and wanted to live the experience firsthand, is the look on Ethan’s face when he turned to me. His eyes wide open, he held his hand out, the one Kobe had slapped, and he said in a voice that only the innocence of youth can muster, “Kobe…”
Too often sports is measured in wins and losses, meaningless fantasy numbers, salaries. The cynicism of sports can overshadow the magic of sports. Lost in the muck of it all — in scandals, spreads, suspensions, statistics — is the transcendent emotions of the game — the passion, the identification with yourself and others through a common rooting interest, the life lessons of competition, and the belief that on any given court, on any night, anything is possible. The Lakers lost to the Knicks that night when Ethan and I went to the game. Twenty years from now, Ethan may or may not remember who won or how many points Kobe had (although knowing him, he probably will!), but he will always remember that encounter with Kobe in the fan tunnel at MSG. He’ll remember the magic that came with seeing his sports idol in person and the hand slap that Kobe gave him. And hopefully he’ll remember that we were there together, as father and son. In the end, that’s the real Magic of sports.
To Contact Charles Messina, or any AFRSports Columnist, please E-Mail: Contact@AFRSports.com
Charles Messina is a New York Based writer. He was All Star third baseman for his High School wiffle ball team and has shot free throws with Steve Nash. His cross over dribble can still break ankles.