Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Kiss and tell: Magic's hands behind it, Isiah

The opposite of love is indifference, somebody with keener insights into human emotions than I have once said.

I disagree.

I would counter that the opposite of love is hate, because hate hurts a man a lot more than indifference ever could. To look at it otherwise is to disregard what hate might force a man to do to a person he once loved.

I’m not talking about love in the romantic, Romeo and Juliet sense. I guess the MTV word for what I mean is “bromance”: the brotherly love between two male friends. When that love sours, indifference isn't what remains. Hate, though, does.

Hate best reflects the disintegration of the love Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas once felt for each other. In the 1980s, their friendship looked as if it were one of those endearing bonds that a person holds onto his entire life. In a sports world that frowns on public displays of affection, Magic and Isiah were comfortable enough in their skins to share kisses on the cheek.

In Europe, Africa and South America, men kiss each and no one pays it attention. In the United States, the sight makes people feel uneasy. Strangers stare; people whisper. Men here don’t kiss each other, not in public, unless they want to risk ridicule or outrage.

Magic and Isiah heard those whispers. None bothered them. They were friends, and they looked at their kiss as what two brothers would do. And they were brothers; they were also marquee guards in the NBA and two of the brightest stars the game had ever witnessed.

But as 1980s rolled into the ’90s, the friendship took a turn. The pregame kiss ended, and love didn’t turn into indifference, which might have been the best thing for both men. No, it turned into hate.

The real reason it did rests inside each man’s head. Heck, maybe neither of Magic nor Isiah can remember what led to their estrangement. Listening to the rumors – and there were plenty of ’em -- you hear jealousy was behind it; the NBA might not have been big enough for two stars with giant egos.

Jealousy can be too ugly to watch, and had it led to indifference, nobody would be talking about what happened almost two decades ago. But Magic and Isiah didn’t walk away from their friendship without leaving a trail of bitterness in their wake.

Who started the backstabbing? Does either of them know?

What hardened their hatred were the persistent rumors that Magic lobbied to keep Isiah, unjustly, off the 1992 Olympic “Dream Team.”

As if to get even, Isiah claimed Magic contracted HIV from having sex with other men. Magic was gay, or so went the rumors.

And here and there you’ve heard sniping: Isiah said this about Magic; Magic said that about Isiah. Mostly, though, the two men had moved beyond what once was a public brotherhood, perhaps letting indifference set in.

It would have been nice had indifference continued to reign – their breakup lingering in the netherworld of rumors, neither man talking about it, neither man caring about the other.

But love gone bad only brings hatred – nothing else. Hate forces a man to keep old feuds alive. And this one is very much alive after Magic’s new kiss-and-tell book, titled “When the Game Was Ours,” took a stick of dynamite to Isiah’s character.

Magic didn’t just catch Isiah’s character with 10 pieces or so of shrapnel; he blew it to smithereens.

I’m guessing Magic, now a successful businessman, had reasons for not letting the past stay buried in the past. Since the rife with Isiah, Magic had done much to keep his reputation spotless. He didn’t need to open wide a wound that never healed. He betrayed on the memory of a dead friendship.

Now, whatever hope of a reconciliation seems improbable. Too much hate spews from Magic’s book for Isiah’s to let slide. He won’t sit back and live with this affront. He’ll try, I suspect, to get in the last blow.

That’s the way Isiah Thomas played on the court, and he’s played life off the court the same, unforgiving way. So give a pass to Magic on this? Not hardly. Hate won’t allow him.


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