Tuesday, May 14, 2024

Review: Magic (2023)

By Roland Lazenby

One of the unforeseen aspects of the rise of computers in the publishing industries is that some books are getting bigger.

Because they can be. 

A friend of mine in the industry once told me that it became much easier to write a mammoth publication when paragraphs could be bounced around the page like basketballs on the court. Since it's easier to put words in than take them out, it's only natural to see books on sale that are a heavy lift when carrying them out of the bookstore or when toted to your front door by the guy from Amazon.

That brings us to Roland Lazenby's book, "Magic."

This checks in at an impressive 832 pages. My edition was on Kindle, so no muscles were pulled in reading this book for a review. To be fair, there are some notes and a bibliography at the end, so the actual text probably under 800 pages. We're used to that when Robert Caro is writing about Lyndon Johnson, but basketball players usually don't get this sort of treatment. 

Still, the subject of this book is Earvin "Magic" Johnson, and he's in rare air. Magic certainly ranks as one of the best basketball players in history - a unicorn as a 6-foot-9 point guard who could make opponents' victories disappear. Even better, his absolute joy in playing and his flamboyant style made him one of the few players in history that just everyone loved to watch. They didn't call the Lakers' style in the 1980s "Showtime!" for nothing.

Lazenby goes well back into the past in opening the story of Johnson's life, climbing the roots of the family tree back to the Old South. The Johnsons eventually landed in Lansing, Michigan. By the time Earvin was a couple of years into high school, everyone knew he could be something special - although it was difficult to know how special. What's more, Johnson's infectious personality was on display right from the start. As Lazenby writes about, Earvin played a role in helping schools get through some difficult times when it came to integration. Johnson even made some speeches to his classmates along the way.

The man who picked up the nickname of "Magic" along the way in high school opted to stay close to home in college by going to Michigan State. He played in one of the most famous basketball games in history in 1979, the NCAA final against Larry Bird and Indiana State. It was the start of a relationship hat would last a lifetime in various forms. 

You probably know what happened from there. Johnson joined the Los Angeles Lakers, and helped them win an NBA title in 1980. The championships popped up regularly through the 1980, featuring some epic clashes with Bird's Celtics that did wonders for the NBA's image. But then Johnson tested positive for HIV, essentially and eventually cutting his career short. Magic moved into the business world, and perhaps surprisingly showed that he was a quick learner there too. Johnson's wealth is well into nine figures these days.

Lazenby certainly has the time and space to explore just about everything at length, and no one can dispute that the major moments of Johnson's life are fully covered. There are even quite a few "I didn't know that" moments that pop up along the way, and not all of them are flattering. Still, the author captures the player and his era quite nicely. That's not unexpected, since he's written a number of basketball books over the years, many of them on the Lakers in particular. 

The last word about "Magic" comes down to a simple question. If you are intently interested in the life of this Hall of Fame, then you're sure to go through this book in its entirety with enthusiasm. As for the rest of us, we probably could have lost a couple of hundred pages without much difficulty - but it's still worth the read.

Four stars

Learn more about this book from Amazon.com.(As an Amazon affiliate, I earn money from qualified purchases.)  

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