On our Sojourners Community retreat this fall, the retreat leader asked each of us to describe something that brings us joy. I tried to think of something that had some theological or political significance, but couldn't get rid of the first thing that jumped into my head.
My mind had immediately conjured up the vivid picture of 6'9" point guard/forward/center Magic Johnson taking a rebound off the boards and leading the Lakers down the floor in a patented Los Angeles fast break. At the last second, the gentle giant with the famous smile dishes a no-look pass to a teammate, who finishes with a thunderous slam dunk. The crowd goes wild, but nobody is happier than Magic, who reacts with the glee of a kid accomplishing it for the first time.
I shared with the group that watching Magic Johnson play basketball over these last 12 years has been an unending source of delight. I tried to justify it by saying that I, like Magic, am from Michigan State University, and by pointing out how rare it is for a superstar to prefer the perfect pass to the scoring limelight. (Could the Bible's "servant leader" be a point guard?)
Five days later, Earvin "Magic" Johnson announced to the world that he had contracted the HIV virus that leads to AIDS and was retiring from basketball.
For millions of people (and I'm one of them), Magic has been, as one sportswriter recently put it, "an apostle of joy." Despite the blatant commercialism and contradictions of big-time professional sports, and the painful but not surprising revelations about his own lifestyle, there can be no denying that Magic Johnson brought something very unique and special to the game that he so loves.