Monday, May 18, 2009

Jack and Magic´s First Year

Here´s another basketball story:

When my dad, Jack McKinney, first started as head coach of the Lakers, he walked into one of the first practices, where passes were going everywhere, and Kareem Abdul Jabbar´s skyhooks weren´t going through the hoop, and said, "It looks like LAX in here." The balls stopped bouncing; everyone grew quiet. Nobody talked to Kareem that way.

Then Kareem picked up a ball, and continued shooting. So the other players did too.

It was Jack´s first year - his first few days, actually - as an NBA head coach. He took rookie Magic Johnson aside and told him he wanted him to play guard, and he wanted him to be the floor leader. My dad knew Magic´s unique spirit and enthusiasm could really spark the team.

"Coach, I don´t know if I can do that. You want me to tell Kareem what to do?"

"Kareem told me he´s looking for leadership from you.¨

"All right, Coach. If Kareem says so," Magic said, wide-eyed. "I´ll do my best."

That was in 1979. By the end of that season Magic was a media star, the Lakers had won the championship and my dad was looking for another job. But that´s another story, one told in my memoir.

Years later, Jack interviewed Magic Johnson for a pre-game show, and reminded Magic of how
he´d agreed to lead the team at Kareem´s request. "Magic, Kareem never said that," Jack admitted.

"Coach, you got me!" Magic laughed. And the two retired basketball legends laughed, knowing it had all worked out for the best.

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