If Magic Johnson’s fractured friendship with Isiah Thomas suffers further collateral damage by a book released this week, there doesn’t seem to be much movement for any kissing and making up in the near future.
In “When The Game Was Ours” (linked here), a book coming out Wednesday co-authored by Johnson and Larry Bird to recount their basketball rivalry-turned-brotherhood starting 30 years ago, a few egos have been stepped on when diverting to other sidelights.
Johnson writes about how more-than-miffed he was that Thomas began asking people close to both of them whether Johnson was gay after it was revealed he had HIV in 1991. He adds that he helped orchestrate blackballing the Detroit Pistons’ All-Star guard from being picked for the 1992 U.S. Olympic “Dream Team.”
When excerpts came out last week on SI.com, Thomas, the former Detroit Pistons All-Star guard who just took over as head coach at Florida International University, responded (linked here): “I’m really hurt, and I really feel taken advantage of for all these years. I’m totally blindsided by this. …. I didn’t know he felt this way … What most people don’t know is, before Magic had HIV, my brother had HIV. My brother died of HIV, AIDS, drug abuse. So I knew way more about the disease, because I was living with it in my house.”
Monday, Johnson said he wasn’t surprised by Thomas’ reaction to the book.
“No surprise, that’s just a part of life,” Johnson said. “Isiah’s got to worry now about his Florida team and his life going on, and I’ve got to worry about my businesses. We both move on and keep going.”
Later in a conference call with reporters to promote the book, Johnson, whose Lakers beat Thomas’ Pistons in the seven-game 1988 Finals but lost to them in four straight in the ’89 championship, continued: “It was time (for this to come out) There was a time when we had an incredible relationship. We used to do everything together in the day, and then it faded. Those two championships (meetings) had something to do with it. Then we went in opposite directions from there.
“But even today, I want Isiah to be successful in what he does, even though it’s not the same friendship that it used to be. Sometimes, what happens (in the past) has to be revealed sometimes.”
There are nearly two dozen references to Thomas in the 340 page book, but the one on page 240 seems to be the one most sexy in trying to push pre-sale buzz.
Co-author Jackie MacMullan writes about how “immediately there were whispers and innuendo” about Johnson’s sexuality because of his contracting the AIDS virus that took place 18 years ago this week.
Johnson’s agent, Lon Rosen, is quoted as saying that Thomas told him: “I keep hearing Magic is gay. . . . I don’t know what he’s doing when he’s out there in L.A.”
When Rosen ran that back to Johnson, it was as if Thomas “kicked me in the stomach,” Johnson writes. Johnson’s wife, Cookie, is also quoted as saying that Thomas’ response “hurt Earvin the most” and they had “no choice but to move on from people like that.”
A few pages later in the book, Johnson agrees that Lakers teammate A.C. Green, a religious man who always preached abstinence, was distant and aloof around him, but never condemned Johnson.
“Even as I sit here, I don’t have a problem with A.C.,” Johnson writes. “He had a right to his opinion and his beliefs. . . At least I knew where I stood with A.C. He never went behind my back. The so-called friends that did that to me were the ones that hurt me the most.”
Johnson said Monday that, although he endorsed Thomas getting a front office job with the New York Knicks — “I was cheering for him … one thing that’s great about him is his talent evaluation is off the charts” — he hasn’t spoken to Thomas since the excerpts were released and Thomas reacted.
“If that day comes, then we’ll sit and talk about it,” said Johnson. “If it doesn’t come, then it doesn’t come. Right now, as I said earlier, we both got a lot to do. I wish him well. It’s too bad it has to come to this, but sometimes, that’s what happens.”
In 1992, Johnson wrote a book with Bill Novack, “Magic Johnson: My Life” in which none of these problems with Thomas were revealed. Last year, he also came out with a book entitled “32 Ways to be a Champion in Business.”