From Magic Johnson to Kobe Bryant and in Between: 25 Years of Memories.

William GuilfordContributor IJanuary 5, 2010

As I begin my new journalistic journey, I think back to moments that have shaped my view of professional sports and the athletes who play them. I have been a sports fan for a quarter century and throughout that time I have witnessed a lot of good and bad things that sports have to offer. Here are a few.
I remember when I watched my first NBA game. It was 1985—the Los Angeles Lakers vs. the Boston Celtics. I was five years old and remember both of my parents planning their whole day around the start of that first game of the NBA Finals. My dad, who had been a member of a State Championship high school basketball team back in his day, was a huge Magic Johnson fan.
I don't remember much of that game or that series but I know that the Lakers lost big in the first game but came back to win the series and beat the Celtics for the first time ever in the NBA Finals. I can vividly remember the champagne popping and celebration and the big smile on Magic's face in the Lakers locker room after that their victory. I thought to myself that I would love to be there. There was joy in my family after that series. Around that time a huge Lakers fan was born.
I remember when Mike Tyson lost to Buster Douglas.  At the time, being only nine, that was by far the biggest shocker of my life.

I remember when My dad and I used to sit and watch the Atlanta Braves dominate the National League during the 90's. It was a nightly routine. My dad gets home from work, eats a little dinner and kicks back and turns on TBS to watch the game. Man, those were some good ol' days. Nothing like coming home from school to drink some sweet tea and eat some smothered steaks or pork chops and watch the likes of David Justice, Ron Gant, and Terry Pendleton at their best. I guess my baseball fanhood went with me leaving home to go off to college in 1998 because after that watching baseball was never the same for me.

I remember when Michael Jordan beat my Lakers in 1991. I was the only 11-year-old in my school cheering for the Lakers at the time. Every kid had jumped on the Jordan bandwagon except me. I stuck by my Lakers and Magic Johnson. Unfortunately, Jordan and the Bulls won their first title and became my nemesis for 5 of the next 7 years.

I remember when Magic Johnson announced he had HIV the year following the loss to the Bulls. I had just came home from school and was getting ready to go to the annual Peanut Festival Fair (The city I grew up in, Dothan, AL, has coined the title "Peanut Capital of the World"). My dad turned on the TV to watch the Magic Johnson press conference and I got teary eyed when the man announced that he was retiring from basketball because of acquiring HIV. My favorite sports hero at the time was leaving the game while still in his prime! I couldn't believe it. We went to the fair anyway but my mood was shot. I think I was semi-depressed until that season's all-star game when Magic played and showed us that his life will go on.

I remember when the Knicks and Rockets played in the NBA Finals during the league's "Jordan Hiatus" years. This was a great and underrated series for many reasons. Here are three:
First, you had two of the league's premier centers playing against each other in the prime of their careers. This was the first time two all-time great centers in the prime of their careers had met in the finals since the days of Wilt Chamberlain and Bill Russell.
Second, neither Hakeem Olajuwon nor Patrick Ewing had won a championship and both were looking to cement their legacy as one of the greatest centers of all times.
Third: Both teams were evenly matched with very similar role players to complement the two great big men. The series ended up going 7 games with Houston winning. I was rooting for the Rockets and my dad was rooting for the Knicks. This made for interesting game watching at my house. I drew pictures of Ewing getting dunked on by Hakeem and Robert Horry then decorated the house with the drawings. I aggravated my dad like crazy.  And when the Rockets won he never heard the last of it.

I remember when I went through the post-Showtime/pre-Shaquille O'neal and Kobe Bryant days as a Lakers fan. Although the Lakers were exciting and I became a huge Cedric Ceballos and Nick Van Exel fan these were tough times for a brother—very tough times. 
I remember when Mike Tyson bit Evander Holyfield's ear.  Only 17 at the time, this was the third biggest shocker of my sports fanhood following the Tyson loss to Douglas and Magic's HIV announcement.

I remember when Michael Jordan hit the game winning shot over Utah in the 1998 NBA Finals. I was passionately rooting against the man who stole the torch from Magic Johnson. My older sister liked the bald-headed, 6'6, dark-skinned, smooth talking and well-dressed man from North Carolina so she rooted for the Bulls. It was annoying beyond belief to hear my sister yap about how great MJ was. I was tormented daily for my hatred of His Airness but I was secretly a collector of the Michael Jordan video library—"MJ's Playground," "Come Fly With Me," etc. I hated passionately but I also respected passionately.

I remember the Sammy Sosa/Mark McGwire homerun chase of 1998. That season was the most exciting season I can ever remember for baseball. A 40-year-old record that many said could not be broken stood on the brink of getting broken. And did it ever! McGwire and Sosa both broke the 61 homerun barrier by 9 and 5 respectively. Amazing—until we learned about BALCO!

I remember when the Braves and Yankees played in the 1999 World Series. During the 90's, the Braves had only won one championship and the Yankees had won two up until that point and many were calling this the series that would decide who would be recognized as the "Team of the Decade." However, the Yankees won in a laugher. My dad and I were devasted. The Braves needed that win and needed it badly to avoid becoming the Buffalo Bills of baseball.  Suffice it to say, the Braves were left with only the one championship following one of the longest stretches of success in sports history.
I remember when Roy Jones Jr. dominated boxing during the 90's with an ease that we had never seen before.  Jones took pages from Sugar Ray Leonard and Muhammad Ali in terms of ring showmanship and personality.

I remember when the Lakers came back from 13 points entering the fourth quarter of game seven of the 2000 Western Conference Finals. The images of Brian Shaw hitting clutch 3's, Kobe crossing over on Scottie Pippen and hitting Shaq for the lob, and Pippen storming to the locker room in a fit of rage throwing down a stack of towels. This may be my best memory as a basketball fan. The lakers went on to win the championship and the Kobe/Shaq Dynasty was officially coronated.

I remember when Barry Bonds broke the 3-year-old homerun record of Mark McGwire in 2001. The whole season was incredible as everyone knew he was gonna do it about a month or two into the season. I think Bonds had like 30 homers a third of the way through the season. Incredible!  He was gunning for that record man even well before that season started if you know what I mean.

I remember when the Lakers faced the Kings in 2002 in one of the greatest NBA playoff series ever. I remember the Horry three-pointer to win game 4. I remember watching game 7 in the dorm that I stayed in during my first summer in NYC. I had just moved there so we didn't have cable set up yet in our rooms yet.  As a result, most of the people in my internship program watched the game in the recreation room of the Columbia University dorm. It brought out a range of emotions because everyone was either a Laker fan or a Laker hater and both sides watched passionately. Thankfully, the Lakers withstood the test from the Sacramento Queens and went on to win their third ring in a row.

I remember the Brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills in 2004. I watched the game in my apartment with my roommates during my third year of law school. We were all disturbed at the entire scene but we were impressed that almost all of the commentators, immediately after the game, mostly blamed the fans for the fight. In a complete 180 degree flip after NBA Commissioner, David Stern laid down his suspensions, most of the commentary turned to blaming the players and calling them thugs. Many were branding the league as being full of gangsters and hoodlums.
The NBA, in an effort to overly pacify prejudicial attitudes toward the NBA, brought in country singers to sing at the NBA All-Star Halftime Show that year. My opinion has always been that the NBA players don't get a fair shake and that there are some prejudiced media members who continue to perpetuate the perception that the NBA is full of thugs.
The level of abuse and humiliation that NBA players are susceptible to on the floor is insane. More often than in any other sport, I see NBA players getting food, beer, and other objects flung at them as they leave the court. I don't know any man who wouldn't want to fight somebody who is pouring beer or throwing objects at them. To tell a man that he can't defend himself in the face of extreme humiliation and physical confrontation bothers me to my core.
To call an NBA player a thug because he gets into a fight in one of the most physical sports in existence while MLB players are involved in dugout clearing brawls every month and people chalk it up to men being men is the epitome of hypocrisy and is likely a by-product of racial prejudice. The NBA only has a big fight maybe once every other year and each time it happens things gets blown way out of proportion because of the color of the athlete's skin. Let's get it together America.
I remember the 2006 BCS Championship game.  The setting:  The Rose Bowl in Pasadena.  The hype: Undefeated and defending champion USC lead by freshly crowned heisman winner, Reggie Bush and the previous year's heisman winner, Matt Leinart against undefeated Texas lead by internally scorned and highly motivated heisman runner up Vince Young. 
The Story:  In what would become arguably the greatest game in college football history, Young pulled off the greatest individual performance in college football history by virtually single-handedly leading his Longhorns to a last minute win against the favored and Mighty Trojans.  Vince finished the game with over 200 yards rushing and passing to go along with a face full of confetti and a big index and pinkie finger Longhorn pose.

I remember when on a Sunday night in January of 2006, Kobe defied all basketball logic by scoring 81 points in one game on mostly jump shots and driving layups. It was the greatest individual performance that anybody in my generation had ever seen. Ever.  And I saw it all with my NBA LeaguePass subscription. I remember texting a buddy of mine throughout the game and telling him that I felt Kobe was gonna break 70. I felt it. I think everybody felt it coming ever since Kobe pummeled the Mavs 62-61 in the preceding month.
We knew he could do it then and we knew that he knew he could do it and once Kobe knows he can do something then he will go through great lengths to actually do it.  So it was only a matter of time before the monster was to be unleashed.  With the perfect setting—down 18 at home—nd the perfectly skilled player in a zone NBA fans witnessed a perfect storm of individual basketball excellence.  Side Note:  Nobody ever mentions this but the greatest individual single game performances in NBA and college football history occurred during the month of January in the year 2006.

I remember when, in 2007, I won my fantasy football league for the second time in three years. Big shout out to Randy Moss, Derek Anderson, Donovan McNabb, Brandon Jacobs, and Anquan Boldin for carrying me down the stretch!  Just had to throw that in there.
I remember the 2008 Olympics - Michael Phelps, The Redeem Team, and Usain Bolt left their signatures on one of the most exciting games I had ever seen.
I remember when my Lakers reached the top of the mountaintop again by winning the NBA championship in 2009.  Excellent job Pau Gasol, Trevor Ariza, Lamar Odom, Derek Fisher, and what's his name...ummm, oh yeah Kobe.  Also, let me not forget Lil Wayne for providing the theme music. 
Those are the moments people.  I hope you now have a firm grasp of who I am and where I come from.  Hint hint:  I am a huge NBA and Lakers fan.  Take care folks and look out for my next article.