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East Bay Book Club Message Board › Meeting Recap: April 2013 Organizer's Pick Discussion (When the Game Was Our

Meeting Recap: April 2013 Organizer's Pick Discussion (When the Game Was Ours by Larry Bird, Earvin "Magic" Johnson, and Jackie MacMullan)

Group Organizer
Union City, CA
Post #: 35
As you all know, the purpose of the Organizer’s Pick book is to diversify the East Bay Book Club’s reading list. It’s also a way for us to try a brand new genre, the same way people might try a new food for the first time. Whether it’s pleasant or not, at least we can say that we tried it once.

A year ago, when I was browsing the bookstore, I looked for genres that we have not yet explored and that nobody is likely to pick from. That’s when I came across sports books. Having never read sports books, I had no idea which ones were the best of the genre. Plus, there were so many stories about the struggles of one athlete. It was not long before I came across When the Game Was Ours. Immediately, I thought about giving that book a try because (1) the book is about two rival athletes, which sounds more interesting than just one athlete, (2) the book description said that the two athletes reignited a floundering pro basketball league, and (3) Magic Johnson might be a recognizable name, whether as a basketball player, a businessman, or an AIDS advocate.

So on April 17, 2013, a total of seven people, including myself, attended the meeting for When the Game Was Ours. What’s interesting is that the sports background varied among the attendees, which included
- Me, who never followed sports growing up, but I heard of Magic Johnson through my father who was a Los Angeles Lakers fan and of Larry Bird of the Boston Celtics (though I never knew the two had a rivalry)
- A Boston Celtics fan
- Two attendees who mentioned a sports background involving participation
- Someone who never followed basketball but became interested in watching the sport after reading this book
- Someone who remembered the Michigan State-Indiana State matchup in 1979 (where Magic and Bird played each other for the very first time)
- A fan of most professional sports teams in the Bay Area, including the San Francisco Giants, the San Francisco 49ers, and the Golden State Warriors

First, I presented facts of interest about Bird, Magic, and the book’s main writer Jackie MacMullan. Two facts related to Bird are so funny that they’re worth mentioning again:
- In October 2005, a man in Oklahoma City, Eric James Torpy, was convicted of shooting with intent to kill and robbery. He asked that his sentence be changed from 30 years imprisonment to 33 so that it would match Bird's jersey number. His request was granted.
- Twitter's logo is named Larry in honor of Larry Bird.

I also presented a copy of a Wikipedia article about NBA Champions (http://en.wikipedia.o...­. A few interesting patterns can be seen in the table listing all NBA Finals year by year, illustrating how incredibly popular the Lakers and Celtics were:
- The Lakers and Celtics were in most NBA Finals from 1957 to 1970, before the Bird-Magic rivalry.
- The Golden State Warriors won the NBA Championship in 1975. (Hey, we’re in the Bay Area, right?)
- In every year in the 1980s, when Bird and Magic were the NBA’s stars, the Lakers, Celtics, or both were in the NBA Finals. In all but two of those years, one of those two teams won.
- During most of the 1990s, the Chicago Bulls were the team winning most NBA championships, thanks to its star, Michael Jordan.
- The Lakers-Celtics rivalry ignited again when the two teams were the last two teams standing in 2008 (Celtics won) and 2010 (Lakers won).
- The night of this book club meeting was also the last night for the 2012-2013 NBA season. As of now, the Celtics and the Lakers are in the playoffs. (So are the Golden State Warriors in Oakland.) Could we see yet another Lakers-Celtics matchup in the final round?

With that, here’s a rundown of the discussion that took place, accompanied with video clips that I compiled before the meeting (some of which I couldn’t show at the meeting because the local Wi-Fi connection wasn’t perfect) plus a few extra clips I found tonight.

VIDEO: Jackie MacMullan interview (­)

What did you think of the author’s writing style?
- It jumped around a lot.
- It’s easy to read.
- It would be nice if the statistics were cut out.
- There was not too much internal insight into the main characters.
- One person became more curious about Larry Bird’s autobiography after reading this book.

Discuss the traits that define Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.
- It’s basically an introvert (Bird) versus an extrovert (Magic).
- They’re similar in their competitive drive.
- Back then, players of opposing teams never got friendly before a game. In a way, Magic was sort of on the wave in that pattern gradually changing.

Generally speaking, are sports rivalries a good or bad thing? Why do you think the Lakers-Celtics rivalry turned out the way it did, as opposed to a rivalry that is bitter, hateful, and even violent?
- Sports rivalries can be a good thing in terms of generating excitement, and also pushing athletes to be better than one another.
- The rivalry was a clash of personalities, not just athletic ability.
- When you consider that Los Angeles is associated with glitz and glamour and Boston has more of a blue-collar image, the rivalry between Magic and Bird is also a rivalry between the cultures of two cities.
- Magic is diplomatic in character, so fighting Bird wouldn’t actually be right.
- Bird, while he was intensely determined to win, wasn’t really driven by anger.
- VIDEO: Kurt Rambis takedown (­, which led to a comment that sports can be dirty, even though it’s wrong to play dirty
- A side comment: it was sad that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar didn’t want to sign an autograph for a young boy because he didn’t feel worthy enough to do it. But Magic went ahead and do it instead. That really showed how Magic could connect with people.
Group Organizer
Union City, CA
Post #: 36
VIDEO: Converse shoe commercial that Bird and Magic shot together after the 1985 NBA Finals (­)
How important was this shoe commercial in Bird and Magic’s relationship?
- This was when fans could really identify with Bird and Magic.
- It was nice to see how the book transitions from this part of the story to the early life stories of the two athletes, considering how that wasn’t discussed all that much earlier in the book.
- Would things have been different if that commercial were not shot? In response, the sense among the group was that it’s hard to say.

More Converse shoe commercials
- One with a corny rap, also mentioned in the book (­)
- One with Bird, Magic, and Dr. J of the Philadelphia 76ers (­)

Your thoughts on Magic’s revelation of having HIV? (VIDEO:­)
- It was a shocking, because back then, having HIV was a death sentence. Even Larry Bird had that fear, saying, “My god. Magic’s gonna die.”
- The book didn’t talk too much about Magic and his wife, especially as one can imagine that Magic (and other players) were sleeping around.
- Side comment: When diver Greg Louganis hit his head against a diving board, leaving blood in the water, the response was intense because Louganis never revealed that he had HIV.
- In the end, much good came out of Magic’s HIV saga, because as a high-profile figure, he made a real difference in educating people about the disease.

Quick comments on the 1992 Olympics when Bird and Magic were on the same USA basketball team:
- Teams other than the US didn’t stand a chance with Bird and Magic playing.
- The most memorable moment for the meeting attendees was when one of Magic’s opponents paused during a game, just so a photograph of him and Magic, his hero, could be taken for his personal collection.

Towards the end of the book, Bird and Magic were shocked to see what unfolded in a 2004 game between the Indiana Pacers (for which Bird was a coach and executive) and the Detroit Pistons: a brawl that would be considered the worst in NBA history, which escalated out of control because a fan threw a drink onto player Ron Artest. (By the way, Ron Artest changed his legal name to Metta World Peace, and he’s currently playing for the Lakers.) (VIDEO:­) With this in mind, how is professional basketball (or all pro sports) different today than before? What can today’s athletes learn from Bird and Magic?
- Bird and Magic treated basketball as an art form, constantly trying to perfect it.
- Today’s players don’t seem to focus on being a team player.
- In fact, steroids are quite common in sports today. In contrast, Bird and Magic were not known to use steroids.
- Today’s players have agents and are more business-savvy.
- Of course, sports today is a business where players are just assets.
- Overall, Bird and Magic were very determined with an incredible work ethic.
- Bird and Magic tried to be a winner over the other, but in the end, they are both winners. They are essentially two sides of the same coin. There’s really no difference.
- Even so, two meeting attendees, including the Celtics fan, thought Magic was the better player.

As for final thoughts, one of the seven attendees had to leave the meeting early. But of the remaining six, all six really enjoyed the book, regardless of their sports background. One commented that he read several sports books and said that When the Game Was Ours was among the good ones. It was nice to know that I picked a good read for the meeting.

With that, I look forward to the next book meeting (while seeing how far the Golden State Warriors, Los Angeles Lakers, and Boston Celtics go in this year’s NBA playoffs). :-)
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