Doing a good deed is always a good thing. It shows others that we value them and that they matter. Sometimes, what we might consider a small gesture can mean the world to the other person. It could be as simple as helping someone across the road. Or, it could be providing a meal to someone who is hungry. It could be hugging someone who is grieving.
Well, this is that kind of story.
This is about the time that Magic Johnson and Rony Seikaly played a game of one-on-one against each other. It is not a very well-known story. In doing the research for it, I had a really hard time finding references to this one-on-one game anywhere.
I was only able to find something on this topic in two places. You can find one instance in the book When the Game Was Ours co-written by Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and NBA writer Jackie MacMullen.
You can also find a reference from an article written by Dave McMenamin for ESPN.com back in 2011. The article was about the 20th anniversary of Magic’s announcement that he had HIV. He was using the anniversary as an occasion to present a One Million dollar check for HIV awareness.
There was a small ceremony in L.A. for this occasion. On hand was a crowd of who’s who from Lakers history, including James Worthy, AC Green, Michael Cooper, Mychal Thompson, Kurt Rambis, Pat Riley, Mike Dunleavey, Jerry West, Bill Sharman, Dr. Jerry Buss, Mitch Kupchak, Jeanie Buss, Phil Jackson, and former Lakers trainer Gary Vitti.
Magic Thanked Seikaly
As part of Magic’s speech, he thanked all of the people that had an influence on his playing career going all the way back to his high school days. Then he thanked someone that kind of came out of left field. He thanked Rony Seikaly.
That was a weird one because Magic and Seikaly were never teammates and as far as anyone knew, they were not even friends. They had played regular NBA games against each other as opponents, but that is it. So, all I could find were references that such a one-on-one game took place, but no details about the actual game itself. So we know it happened and that it meant a lot to Magic, but I found nothing else in my research.
Now, I will explain the connection between Magic and Seikaly. We will explore the following questions: Why were they in the same place at the same time? Why did they play one-on-one?
There really is no obvious reason that this game should have ever taken place.
Rony Seikaly was born in Beirut, Lebanon, but raised in Athens, Greece where his family is actually from. He was one of those very early international players who played in the NBA in the 1980s. Back then there were not more than maybe a dozen players from outside the United States playing in the NBA.
Compare that to today where there are over 150 international players in the NBA. So, Seikaly was definitely one of the early pioneers. It was obvious from an early age that he might have a real future in basketball as he was always way taller than the other kids and had amazing athleticism and coordination.
He attended the American School in Athens, Greece, so his English is really good since he basically did high school in English. Playing basketball there and being 6’11” (2.11m) he caught the attention of Jim Boeheim, the head coach at Syracuse University in upstate New York. Boeheim brought Seikaly to Syracuse where he helped lead them to a Final Four appearance in 1987.
After a senior year where he was named a John Wooden All-American, he was the very first draft pick in Miami Heat history when they took him with the 9th pick in 1988. He also played for the Golden State Warriors, the Orlando Magic, the New Jersey Nets, and one final season in Spain with Barcelona before retiring from the game completely.
He now lives in both Miami and Athens as a dual citizen, where he works as a successful real estate developer and part-time DJ. He specializes in European-style techno or house music. Even though he was never an all-star or a champion, by any reasonable measure, he had a very successful NBA career. He played 11 seasons in the league and averaged just under 15 points per game for his career. He was a very solid NBA player.
You might remember that on November 7, 1991, Magic announced that he had HIV and would be retiring immediately from the Lakers. But, that season he was still allowed to play in the All-Star Game since his name was already on the ballots and he was voted in to play in the game. His doctors signed off on it and said that Magic would suffer no permanent damage by playing in the All-Star Game.
Magic was hardly playing basketball at all in that intervening time, meaning that he was starting to get out of shape. But in addition to playing in that All-Star Game, he had also been named to the 1992 Olympic Dream Team for the upcoming Barcelona Olympics and he needed to get into game shape.
He was doing his best to stay in shape on his own, but to get into basketball shape you need to actually play basketball against other people. He was having trouble finding playing partners. Everyone who could play at his level was already on an NBA team and they were busy traveling around the country playing each other as part of the NBA regular season. He needed some game action of any kind.
The Forum (Inglewood, CA)
This brings us to Sunday, January 5, 1992. He is at the old Forum where the Lakers used to play before playing in the Staples Center. It was common for Magic to get a workout in before the regular Lakers players took the court for their pregame warmup.
It made sense because his old coaches and trainers were already in the building and they could help him get up some shots and put him through drills. And while drills were good for him, it is not the same as playing a game. But it was the best he had available to him. On this day in the balmy California winter of 1992, the Miami Heat was in town.
On the court at the Forum Magic was working out pretty hard and really had a good sweat going. At the other end of the court, Rony Seikaly was doing the same thing. Seikaly was out of the Heat lineup due to an injury. He was rehabbing and working out to get back in shape to return to playing with his team.
So here they are, both men on opposite ends of the court trying to get back in shape. One was trying to get ready to return to the Heat lineup and the other was preparing for the previously mentioned All-Star Game and the Olympics and entertaining a comeback to the Lakers.
It was around 6:15 PM in California and both men knew that they needed to be off the court by around 6:30 because that was when the first Heat and Lakers players started to take the court to start getting loose. Magic was finishing his workout and practicing some hook shots when Seikaly walked over from his end of the court and asked Magic for some one-on-one. That is when Magic gave Seikaly that 10,000-watt smile that would light up an entire room.
Remember, Magic had a hard time finding players to play against him. Most were busy with their NBA teams and the ones that were not were afraid to catch HIV from Magic and did not want to risk unnecessary contact. You have to keep in mind that this was 1992 and we were still learning about HIV. There were still rumors that you could catch it off a toilet seat.
Well, Magic could not believe it. Someone was willing to play against him. And it was an active NBA player, which will make it a good game. They were playing pretty hard. Sweat was flying everywhere. They were going after each other with jump hooks and step-back jumpers. It was some pretty good one-on-one. It was very intense.
Then the Lakers and Heat players started to make their way onto the court and they saw this matchup going on. They were concerned for Seikaly. To them, he was taking a major risk playing against Magic.
But it soon became obvious that it was safe. Seikaly did not get HIV. As word spread around the league that it is safe to play against Magic everyone started to relax a bit. That was a good thing.
I Was There
So how do I know so much about this game when the documents I mentioned do not go into any real detail? I’ll tell you why; because I was there. Up until now, I haven’t shared much about my personal life because I always want to keep this about the game and its history.
This is not about me. But, this is one of those few cases where the story I’m covering intersects with my real life.
I grew up in Southern California and I have been a Lakers fan my entire life. And, yes, I am still on an emotional high that they won the championship this year in 2020. I love that they now have 17 championships and no longer have to look up to the Celtics.
My dad has been rooting for the Lakers since he immigrated to the United States from Peru in 1968. He started rooting for them when Jerry West, Elgin Baylor, and Wilt Chamberlain were the big three for the Lakers. I jumped on board when I was around 11 years old and Magic, James Worthy, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar were the new big three for the team.
I bleed purple and gold. And when I was in high school my dad had Lakers season tickets. We used to leave the house about 3.5 hours before tipoff. It would take us about an hour to drive to Inglewood depending on traffic.
The city of Inglewood is where the arena was located. We used to get something to eat at Carl’s Jr. on Manchester Blvd. right off the 405 freeway. Then we would make our way over to the old Forum about 90 minutes before tipoff because that is when they would open the doors.
The ushers would not find their posts until 30 minutes after the doors opened. That means we had about 30 minutes to walk all the way down and stand courtside while the players warmed up. That is where my Dad and I stood watching Magic go through that workout when Rony Seikaly walked up for some one-on-one.
I was 17 years old when this happened. It was me, my dad, and about 25 or 30 other fans just standing around watching this one-on-one matchup. Sometimes you don’t realize that history is happening around you when you are in the middle of it. In fact, I hadn’t really thought about this game until 18 years later when I bought a copy of the book When the Game was Ours and saw it mentioned on page 253 of the hardcopy edition.
All the memories came flooding back. You see, Magic was and always will be my favorite basketball player of all time. I am thankful that I was there and in a position to document this story. I wish I could tell you what the score was. Honestly, I wasn’t keeping track. I was just so happy to be watching Magic play any sort of basketball again. I have to admit that I was just caught up in the moment.
On that day in 1992, Rony Seikaly did a very good deed. As a Magic Johnson fan, I am thankful that he did. I will always have a high level of respect for Seikaly. He deserves it. I even looked up his techno music in researching this story, and I kind of like it.
As for Magic… there were no problems with him playing with the national team that summer. The Dream Team played in the Tournament of the Americas in Portland and then the Olympics in Barcelona. If anyone had a problem with his HIV, you couldn’t tell.
So after the success of the 1992 Olympics Magic thought that things were good for him to make his return to the Lakers after just one season away from the game.
He got the green light from his doctors that he would not be subjecting himself to any harm by playing. But, as preseason games began in the Fall of 1992, Karl Malone, his Dream Team teammate said that he would not play against the Lakers if Magic is in the game. He said that the risk is too great. Fellow All-Star Mark Price also chimed in and said that he would also sit out games against the Lakers.
Malone said that playing at the Olympics was one thing because the games were not that physical. But playing in the NBA is a totally different thing because there is a much higher degree of physicality. With some pressure mounting, Magic announced that he was abandoning his comeback attempt.
As time wore on we learned more about HIV and attitudes about it began to shift. After four years away from the game Magic finally made his comeback in 1996 when he played the last 32 games of the season for the Lakers as the team’s power forward before retiring permanently from the NBA.
An act of kindness can go a long way.
Sometimes something as little as playing one-on-one basketball against somebody else can make an impact that reaches far beyond the game. We never know just how much a small gesture can mean to someone. And this act of kindness from almost 30 years ago needs to be remembered.
Not for what it did on that particular day. But because acts of kindness remind us what it is to be human. There are still so many good people in the world doing really good things for others. We should all take the time to brighten someone else’s day. It’s worth it.