On one side is Magic Johnson, he of the Los Angeles Lakers fame. I don’t know if you remember him, or have ever heard of him, but he used to be very, very big – literally and figuratively – in United States basketball, so big in fact that to speak of Magic Johnson even today is to speak of hallowed existence. On the other is Isaiah Thomas. You likely have never heard of him unless you are a crazed basketball fan, American or both. But don’t worry if you don’t know either guy; it is what they represent that matters to this story.
Magic and Isaiah are squabbling like ferrets in a sack over, wait for it, homosexual sex! Their relationship was rent asunder in 1992 and, seventeen years later, Magic Johnson has reopened the wounds with a book in which he excoriates his former bosom friend, IsaiahThomas, because it was claimed that he spread rumors that Magic had caught HIV through gay sex! Allow me to summarize the origin of the squabble:
In 1992, Magic Johnson stunned the entire United States of America and the world when he announced that he was HIV positive. He, however, took care to explain that he had compromised HIV by sleeping with more than 100 (or is it 1000?) women. So far, so simple and so macho; big, straight, mega-popular spots icon slings his tail at every skirt that will have him and contracts HIV.
The public reaction was mostly sympathetic and Johnson got extra kudos for being brave enough to come out with his condition at a time when HIV was still considered a gay disease and a death sentence. But, apparently, the story didn’t end there. Magic Johnson heard it on the grapevine that Thomas was spreading rumors that it was homosexual sex and not excessive macho heterosexuality that had caused the HIV.
The story gets interesting with what Magic says he did about the rumors. He talked to Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Larry Bird and other basketball stars of the time into ganging up against Thomas. Together, they schemed to keep Thomas off the 1992 American Olympics team. At the time, Michael Jordan denied the rumors of his involvement in the sidelining of Thomas, but Johnson has now revealed that there was indeed a plot to keep Thomas from the 1992 US Olympic team. And Thomas’ feelings are hurt all over again.
But this is still not about the two men. Such is the ugliness of the “gay” word in male sports that grown men like Michael Jordan and Larry Bird were persuaded to turn into catty conspirators to punish the insult to the honor of their friend. How could he level a sodomy slur against Magic, a woman’s man if ever there was one? The daggers were sharpened, delivered Brutus-style into Thomas’ side and there they have remained for 17 years.
The gay slur clearly still rankles Magic Johnson today which is why he has decided to rekindle the grudge of old by twisting the knives he and his accomplices left buried in Isaiah Thomas’ belonging. And the slight is working because Thomas is in the news talking frankly about how hurt his feelings are. Seventeen years on, Johnson is still being eaten up by what he feels Thomas said about him, but he claims that he nonetheless played a part in Thomas being hired as a New York Knicks coach (something Thomas contradicts). And all this cattiness because of what? A ‘gay sex’ rumor that Thomas has steadfastly denied.
Just when you thought that strides had been made in bringing homosexuality to the light in America, your complacency is jolted with these revelations. Calling someone gay … no, just saying that someone has had gay sex, is still about the worst insult you can level at a black man of Magic Johnson’s stature and sports prowess even in 2009! Magic Johnson still bristles at that slur and he is still reveling in having ensured that Isaiah Thomas paid by watching the 1992 Olympics basketball competition on television. That Thomas has consistently denied spreading the gay sex rumors is obviously inconsequential; Magic Johnson’s pride was hurt and Thomas has been paying for that for seventeen years!
And someone out there really thinks that homosexuality is a choice? Who would choose to belong to a group to which mere suspicion that one belongs, reduces seemingly level-headed men like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan to conniving, catty conspirators a la the The Real Housewives of Atlanta?