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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

August 14, 1959

I'll be honest. In a lot of cases, my Tuesday Timeline features are quite easy to do, and I can usually find at least one event to focus on.

Today was not one of those days.

For whatever reason, August 14 was one of those dates in which I was struggling to find a topic. It wasn't necessarily because of the fact that August 14 was one of the dullest days in the entire world...a lot happened on that date. But there was nothing that really popped out as a topic that I could do a decent length blog entry on. I really had a blank slate.

Still, I really wanted to do a Tuesday Timeline entry this week, so I really did a lot of research on the day, hoping that I would become inspired.

First, let's look at some of the happenings on this date in history.

1848 – Oregon territory organized by act of Congress

1851 – The birthdate of American gambler/dentist Doc Holliday

1885 – Japan issues its first patent to the inventor of a rust-proof paint

1888 – An audio recording (one of the first recordings of music ever made) of Arthur Sullivan's “The Lost Chord” is played during a press conference introducing Thomas Edison's phonograph

1893 – France becomes the first country in the world to introduce motor vehicle registration

1901 – The first claimed powered flight by Gustave Whitehead in his Number 21

1912 – United States Marines invade Nicaragua to support American-based government installed following the resignation of Jose Santos Zelaya

1916 – Romania declares war on Austro-Hungary during World War I

1933 – The Tillamook Burn forest fire is started by two loggers in Oregon, by the time the fire was put out nearly four weeks later, it had destroyed 240,000 acres

1935 – United States Social Security Act passes

1936 – Rainey Bethea is the last person in the United States to be publicly hanged

1945 – Japan accepts Allied terms of surrender in World War II

1947 – Pakistan obtains independence from British Empire, joins Commonwealth of Nations

1951 – William Randolph Hearst, newspaper magnate, passes away at the age of 88

1967 – UK Marine Broadcasting Offences Act declares it illegal to participate in the broadcasting of 'pirate radio'

1989 – The founder of the Ferrari, Enzo Ferrari, passes away at the age of 90

2003 – A widespread blackout originating in Ohio knocks out power to 55 million people in eight states and the province of Ontario

2010 – The first ever Youth Olympic Games are held in Singapore

(Coincidentally, I lived through that 2003 blackout, and I can attest that it naturally happened on one of the hottest days that typical.)

But none of these events really screamed “Do an entry on me!”, so that was out.

Then, I thought about looking at August 14 celebrity birthdays. Among those celebrating a birthday today are Buddy Greco, John Brodie, Lynne Cheney, David Crosby, Connie Smith, Steve Martin, Susan Saint James, Danielle Steel, Gary Larson, Peter Blegvad (Slap Happy), Slim Dunlap, Jackee Harry, Rusty Wallace, Marcia Gay Harden, Sarah Brightman, Susan Olsen, Mark Gubicza, Neal Anderson, Halle Berry, Catherine Bell, Tracy Caldwell, Mark Loretta, Jay Manuel, Christopher Gorham, Ana Matronic (Scissor Sisters), Ed Harcourt, Kate Ritchie, Earl Barron, Mila Kunis, Spencer Pratt, and Tim Tebow.

And it was here in the celebrity birthday section that I found a great subject. An inspirational subject.

A subject who happens to have the birthdate of August 14, 1959.

August 14, 1959 was the date that the American Football League was founded, but that's not the subject I wanted to focus on. Our blog subject didn't even play football.

Basketball on the other hand, well, he was a legend in that sport. But while his basketball career certainly put him on the map, it was a personal discovery and his fight against a particular disease that made him an inspirational subject. I suppose you could say that finding this blog subject was a stroke of “magic” on my part.

Fifty-three years ago today, Earvin “Magic” Johnson was born...and in those fifty-three years, he has worn many hats. Basketball star, husband, father, entrepreneur, philanthropist, broadcaster, motivational speaker, and an advocate for safe sex and the prevention of AIDS. And, yes, we'll talk about that as we continue with the blog.

Johnson was born in Lansing, Michigan to a General Motors assembly worker father, and a school custodian mother. Falling in love with basketball at a very young age, he practiced every day and soon found himself playing for the basketball team at Everett High School.

It was at Everett High School that Johnson was first given his nickname of “Magic”. It was bestowed upon him by a fifteen-year-old who attended the school after witnessing him record a triple-double of 36 points, 18 rebounds, and 16 assists in one game! Earvin Johnson liked the name, and continued to use it, much to the disdain of his mother who deemed it sacrilegious to refer to himself as “Magic”.

Magic Johnson's last high school basketball season was mighty impressive. Out of 27 games played during that season, the team only lost once, and he lead his team to victory in the state championship game which went into overtime.

After graduating from high school in 1977, Johnson was recruited by several colleges, including UCLA and Indiana State. But Johnson was keen on sticking around the Lansing area, and instead enrolled at Michigan State University after Jud Heathcote (coach of the basketball team at MSU at the time) told him he could play the position of point guard. Interestingly enough, Magic Johnson never intended to play basketball professionally...he was content simply studying communications at the college in hopes of becoming a sports commentator. But as time passed, Johnson eventually began to change his mind, particularly after leading the team to a Big Ten Conference Title, and qualifying to play in two NAACP Tournaments. In fact, the most-watched college basketball game ever featured Michigan State University (Johnson's team) defeating Indiana State University 75-64. Johnson ended up being voted Most Outstanding Player of the Final Four after that game.

I should also note that this particular game pitted Johnson against up and coming basketball star Larry Bird...and that this game wouldn't be the first time that these two would face off against each other either.

After two years of college, Johnson was drafted into the 1979 NBA Draft, where he found himself joining the Los Angeles Lakers. Johnson was thrilled to be given the opportunity, having been a fan of then center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, who would eventually become the leading scorer in NBA history. During Johnson's debut season, the team managed to have a 60-22 win/loss record, and that record earned the team the right to play in the 1980 NBA finals, facing off against the Philadelphia 76ers. After five games, the Lakers were ahead 3-2, but after Abdul-Jabbar sprained his ankle and was unable to play in any further games, the decision was made to have Johnson play center by then coach Paul Westhead. His performance in Game 6 of the series was memorable for a lot of reasons. Not only did the Lakers win the 1980 championship, but Johnson ended up winning the NBA Finals MVP award...the only time a rookie would win the award.

Of course, Magic Johnson did have his share of ups and downs while he played for the Lakers. During the 1980/1981 season, Johnson suffered from torn cartilage in his right knee, which sidelined him for 45 games. Upon his return to the team in 1981, Johnson was immediately signed to a 25-year, $25 million contract with the Lakers, which at the time made it the highest-paying contract. There was also a very public dispute between Johnson and Westhead, which lead to Johnson wanting to be traded to another team. When the situation was resolved, Johnson stayed, but Westhead was fired, which lead to some animosity from the crowds.

However, Johnson's stats as a basketball player are mighty impressive, and in my opinion, those are more important than any scuffles and drama off the court. Just listen to all of Magic Johnson's accomplishments between 1979 and 1992.

Five-Time NBA Champion (1980, 1982, 1985, 1987, 1988)
Three-Time NBA MVP (1987, 1989, 1990)
Twelve-Time NBA All-Star (1980, 1982-1992)
Three-Time NBA Finals MVP (1980, 1982, 1987)
Nine-Time All-NBA First Team (1983-1991)
Two-Time NBA All-Star Game MVP (1990, 1992)
NCAA Champion (1979)

And, that's just a small list!

And, remember how I said earlier that Magic Johnson and Larry Bird developed a rivalry with each other after that fated Michigan State/Indiana State game? It continued into the NBA, particularly when Johnson's Lakers faced off against Bird's Boston Celtics, with Bird even going so far as admitting that the first thing he looked at in the morning was Johnson's daily box score! This rivalry was a friendly one though. Bird and Johnson befriended each other while filming a television commercial together in 1984, and have been friends ever since, with Johnson attending Bird's retirement ceremony in 1992, and Bird inducting Johnson into the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Yes, for fourteen years, Johnson's basketball career seemed to be progressing very well, and it seemed as though nothing could stop him.

But then in 1991, Johnson received the news that would change his life forever.

Just before the start of the 1991/1992 NBA season, Johnson went in for his physical, believing that everything would be fine. So, you could imagine the shock that he felt when it was discovered that he had tested positive for HIV. Just days after receiving the news, he issued a press conference on November 7, 1991, where he revealed to the world his diagnosis, followed by the announcement that he would be retiring from the NBA.

He followed this announcement by stating that he would dedicate the rest of his life to battling the deadly disease, and soon after became a spokesperson for AIDS awareness. But, Johnson's diagnosis of HIV certainly raised questions, as prior to 1991, only a small percentage of heterosexual men contracted HIV through sexual intercourse, leading to endless rumours questioning Johnson's sexual orientation. Johnson later admitted that before he contracted HIV, he had multiple sexual partners, which was likely the way he had contracted the disease. It quickly became one of the most well-known news stories of 1991, and ESPN named the announcement the 7th most memorable moment of the last quarter-century just a few years ago.

At no point however did Magic Johnson let his illness slow him down. Just months after he was diagnosed, he was voted by fans as a starter for the 1992 NBA All-Star Game at Orlando Arena, though not everyone was enthusiastic of the news due to fears from other players about the possibility of contamination if Johnson sustained an open wound on the court. But Johnson proved his worth, leading the West to victory with a final score of 153-113, 25 of which were scored by Johnson himself. Following that, he became a part of the U.S. Basketball Team that competed in the Barcelona 1992 Summer Olympics, which ended up taking home the gold medal that year.

These days, Magic Johnson is still doing well, keeping his HIV status from developing into AIDS with medication. He came back from retirement twice since his 1991 announcement, finally retiring for good in 1996. That same year, he was honoured as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA history, was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002, and even received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame! His jersey number (#32) was retired as well.

In 1998, he attempted to host a talk show on late night, but it was cancelled after a couple of months. He also started up a company, “Magic Johnson Enterprises”, which at its last evaluation was worth $700 million, and in 2012, he, Guggenheim Partners, and Stan Kasten were announced as the winners in the proceedings to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball team!

So, as you can see, Magic Johnson's life began with the highest of highs, crashed to the lowest of lows, and through much dedication, relentlessness, and strength, he has managed to build a huge empire, and has raised millions of dollars for research in hopes of finding a cure for AIDS once and for all. He'll always be remembered for his stellar basketball career, but as I've shown here, he will be remembered for much more than that.

And to think, it all began on August 14, 1959.

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