Wai Sallas, on his memories of Magic Johnson and Manute Bol.
This is the second post in our new series, From the Front Lines . . . of Sports, where readers share personal stories of their experiences attending live sports events. The posts can explore aspects of the game itself, the feeling of being there, of spending time with family or friends, or anything else connected to the experience. And it can be any type of sports event, big or small, from the NCAA Basketball tourney with buddies, the SuperBowl with friends, on a baseball trip with your kid, or to a minor league baseball game with the family.
The remainder of this post is the words of contributor, Wai Sallas:
The sweat poured down the side of my temples as pools began to defy gravity and congregate in the small of my back. My mom tried to warn me that wearing a jacket in 90 degree weather was a bad idea, but excitement and anticipation trumped logic.
I was seven years old and five hours away from seeing my first NBA game. I planned out what I would wear weeks in advance; black Chuck Taylor high tops, basketball shorts, my Lakers youth league basketball jersey, and an authentic satin purple and gold Lakers jacket with a 1987 World Champions patch.
The day crept along, with each passing minute feeling like an entire NBA season. I fantasized about what the players would do during the game. I envisioned Magic throwing a couple of no look passes, James Worthy dunking, and I hoped a camera would be going around looking for fans to say, “NBA action, it’s Fantastic.” I practiced in front of the mirror as I waited. When my dad finally picked me up, the anticipation had reached a fevered pitch.
We got to the arena and found our seats, courtside. The Lakers were playing the Golden State Warriors in a preseason game, and many of the starters would play sparse minutes. To me, it might as well been game 7 of the NBA Finals. Growing up in Hawaii, this wasn’t just a special treat; this was the Super Bowl of treats. We went to the Pro Bowl every year, but the NBA, that was something different. I peppered my dad with questions from the mundane to meticulous. Warm-ups hadn’t even begun and I think my dad was ready for a drink, drinks.
It all happened in an instant, one minute I was taking in the scenery and soaking it all in, and the next, there was Magic Johnson.
My dad introduced me to an older white gentleman with a southern drawl as the Magic and the Lakers ran lay-up lines. I couldn’t care less who he was, did he not know they were making lay ups? He said something about “this is the greatest player who ever played the game,” and I knew he was exaggerating because I was watching the greatest out on the court. I took my eyes off the floor for a second, looked this stranger in the eye, said “nice to meet you Mr. West” and went back to watching the action.
As the game began, I was amazed by every minute detail; the size and speed of the players, the ease at which Magic saw the court, the Lakers gelling as a team—and Manute Bol.
How did God make people that big?
He was listed at 7’7″, but to me he measured around 13 feet. He dunked without jumping. He launched three pointers on his tiptoes. Bol was not human, and I had to inspect this freak of nature for myself.
I no longer had my eyes locked on Magic; I now wanted to examine Bol. I was out to find the flaws proving he was not from this planet but an alien sent here to dominate the game of basketball.
When the game ended, I ran to the tunnel to see him face to face. As he approached, he got taller; the nerve to say anything dissipated and sheer fear blanketed my every being. When he stopped in front of me, I could see nothing beyond his knees and realized this was not my fight. I cowered in his shadow and ran to my dad. Minutes later, someone in a Golden State polo shirt came up to me with a program autographed by Bol.
My fear turned into delight. The NBA was truly fantastic.
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(Photo Credit: AllSports)