When Earvin Johnson announced he was HIV positive, it sounded like a death sentence.
That is, unless you believed in magic.
For though he wore neither the purple nor gold of the Lakers, but rather a plain black suit and tie, white shirt, like he was ready for embalmment, and though he announced a retirement effective immediately, he was still Magic. Still a champion, an MVP, an all-star. Still Showtime.
Same story, different year, different world when Claudia told me she’d been seeing another man. That she wasn’t seeking forgiveness. She didn’t knead a dish towel like she had when she told me she couldn’t have kids, didn’t eye the spaces between wood panels on the walls like when she scraped the side of my Civic.
Looked me dead on. Hands holding mine. Nothing up her sleeve. Told me we were done.
Believed in the Magic who came out of retirement for one outing, 1992, Orlando. The All-Star Game. One more round with the rest of the best and walked out the king of kings. Twenty-five points, the last three when he drained a buzzer beater from behind the arc. Most Valuable Player one last time.
Claudia told me I could keep the apartment. She’d find another place.
We’d moved to Crescent City out of compromise. After coming out west on her command, after the Bay Area proved too expensive. Crescent City kept us in driving distance for weekend trips, and let us breathe that Redwood air. A place to call home until one of us got a break, until things got better.
Magic played for the Olympic team, too. The original Dream Team with Michael and Larry and Charles. Won again. Another trick.
Claudia Left. Took the pots and pans. All the furniture we’d bought since college. Left me the futon from my senior year apartment with the busted frame, so it only folded out to two-thirds length. A closet full of old basketball jerseys, categorized in alphabetical order, from when I dropped money on such things, ranging from Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf’s Nuggets one to Jason Williams from the Kings. In varying degrees of collecting dust. Of decay. Age old orange crust on the collar of Anfernee Hardaway’s Orlando jersey. Number one.
The Orlando Magic.
So I cashed in my vacation time and hit the road solo, east bound for Springfield, Massachusetts. A city I’d never seen, but the place where they say Dr. James Naismith first nailed peach baskets over a gymnasium floor. Where the magic started with teenage boys bouncing soccer balls, a gym class activity that became something.
Magic Johnson played point guard most of his career. But his rookie season, last game of the Finals, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on the DL, Magic started at center. Caught the ball and faked a shot, only to drive as far as the foul line and soared, his best imitation of Jabbar’s sky hook, hitting nothing but net.
Now it’s my turn to drive.
To believe again.
Michael Chin was born and raised in Utica, New York and his hybrid chapbook, The Leo Burke Finish, is available now from Gimmick Press. He won Bayou Magazine‘s Jim Knudsen Editor’s Prize for fiction and has work published or forthcoming in journals including The Normal School, Passages North and Hobart. He works as a contributing editor for Moss. Find him online at miketchin.com or follow him on Twitter @miketchin.