Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas Stir Controversy Over 'When the Game Was Ours'

Bleacher ReportSenior Analyst IOctober 22, 2009

Magic Johnson is making headlines with the stirring statements about his former friend and NBA superstar, Isiah Thomas, in a new book entitled When the Game Was Ours.

The book, dealing most specifically with the rivalry between the Lakers, Celtics, and Pistons in the late-80’s, is due to be released on November 4 and is co-authored with Larry Bird through the aide of Jackie MacMullan.

The feud between the two basketball stars was ignited after they once shared a close bond, yet Thomas supposedly spread rumors and inquired about Johnson’s sexuality.

Magic says in the book that his agent, Lou Rosen, told him in 1991 that Isiah was spreading these rumors. 

Thomas wanted to know if a bi-sexual lifestyle has led to Magic’s HIV virus and he went about the locker room and NBA community openly wondering the true sexuality of Johnson.

The hurt experienced by Magic was magnified by the way Thomas questioned Magic’s illness after Thomas had stood by Johnson as a friend for so long.

No one would play one-on-one with Magic because there was worry about coming into contact with his sweat, but Magic felt that Isiah was the one guy he could turn to when things were tough.

Magic even nicknamed a room “the Isaiah room” in a mansion he once built.

He would leave his car at the team hotel for Isiah when the Pistons came into town.

That makes the core of the issue simply the betrayal amongst friends, but it will surely be turned into a witch-hunt to seek out more skeletons in Thomas’ closest.

The media and public will now hone in on Thomas, currently head coach at Florida International University, in an attempt to exploit the issue for as much headline time as possible.

This is such a unique situation, because these are NBA players of the highest caliber, yet Magic is airing some extremely private laundry in a very public forum.

Magic regarded Isiah like a brother, and the prying nature of Thomas’ questions about his sexuality forever devastated the relationship and finally manifesting in this book.

The hurt of being betrayed by Thomas was what did in the friendship, and MacMullan said that Johnson was very sad and somber when speaking of the issues. It took Magic six or seven attempts to explicate the events in their entirety for the book.

"Isiah kept questioning people about it...The one guy I thought I could count on had all these doubts. It was like he kicked me in the stomach,” said Magic.

Complicating the issue further, Isiah had a brother, Gregory, die of AIDS. 

Shouldn’t he have known, with someone so close going through the disease, that there was more respect to be given to Magic?

Thomas argues that for that reason, these allegations are false, and he would never do something of that nature. 

"I never spread any rumors like that, and I can't believe Magic would take [Lou] Rosen's word over mine.

Following Magic’s diagnosis, Thomas himself had fought for Johnson’s inclusion in the 92 All-Star Game and greeted him with kiss during handshakes to show that he wasn’t afraid of Magic’s condition.

Then, as Magic details in the book, arose the issue of Thomas questionably being kept off the Dream Team in 1992, and Magic explains that he had a personal role in securing Thomas’ absence from the Olympic squad.

It was well known that Michael Jordan didn’t want to play with Thomas, and that Jordan was a primary reason that Thomas was excluded while Chris Mullen, Scottie Pippen, and Christian Laettner were added to the roster.

What the public didn’t know, however, was that Magic didn’t want Isiah on the team either.

This fact was masked not only because Jordan took responsibility for keeping him off the team, but also because Magic is very caring, cordial, and personal with Thomas in public.

Not coincidentally, that behavior is what made Thomas incredibly disturbed with the manner in which the news came to light. The two haven’t really spoken in years and have just exchanged basic hellos at events, which caught Thomas off guard when previews of the book were released.

“I'm totally blindsided by this. Every time that I've seen Magic, he has been friendly with me. Whenever he came to a Knick game, he was standing in the tunnel [to the locker room] with me. He and [Knicks assistant coach] Herb [Williams] and I, we would go out to dinner in New York. I didn't know he felt this way.''

It seems like more of the same for Thomas, who has seen his post-basketball life transform him into a near Michael Jackson-like figure.

Jackson was the King of Pop, undoubtedly one of the most gifted musicians of our time. But his legal run-ins and social deficiencies altered the way he was viewed in present society, making him either hated or loved, but nothing in between.

Similarly, Isiah has gotten an incredibly tough shakedown from the media for some very public mistakes, and he has formed a huge base of people who disagree with the way he conducts personal business.

This book by Johnson is going to bring the light back onto Thomas’ flaws as a man and further push to the back of our minds that Isiah was one of the greatest talents ever. Now, his missteps in the Knicks front office and these accusations have clouded the vision of what his game used to be.

We don’t know what will come out of this situation, but nothing positive can result.

Either Magic looks bad for exploiting this publicly after sweeping it under the rug for years, or Isiah furthers his persona as a waning superstar and social pariah. 

If Magic had brought this to the public's attention nearly 20 years ago, he could have opened up an important dialogue in the social forum about sexuality and HIV that took many years to unravel. He could have been even more of a pioneer in working towards eradicating the disease and finding outlets for those who were suffering. 

On the other hand, if Thomas had been a true friend and not gone behind Magic's back, then there wouldn't be an issue to speak of at all.

I see this controversy carrying on until the book's release, but like I said, it's unlikely that anything positive will come of this, which I think is unfortunate for such an important topic in our world today. 


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