The relationship between Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas has been one of the most scrutinized in maybe all of American sports. The pair were two of the NBA’s biggest superstars in the 1980’s and had a friendship that seemed to transcend the competition between the Pistons and Lakers.
Those two teams met in two NBA Finals in 1988 and 1989. At one point the two were so close they would share a kiss at mid-court. But from there the relationship deteriorated all the way to the point that Johnson admitted he was involved in making sure Thomas didn’t make it onto the Dream Team for the 1992 Olympics.
Here’s Jemele Hill explaining the feud from an ESPN.com article in 2009:
In the book, which Johnson co-authored with Larry Bird and frequent ESPN contributor Jackie MacMullan, Johnson admits he helped keep Thomas off the 1992 U.S. Olympic Dream Team because he believed that, in the wake of Johnson’s announcement in 1991 that he had HIV, his once-dear friend spread a rumor he was gay or bisexual.
For most of the public, this is a startling admission, but Johnson’s sexuality has been gossiped about in NBA circles for years. That can be chalked up to ignorance about his disease. Thomas, now the men’s basketball coach at Florida International University, denies speculating about Johnson’s sexuality and told SI.com he feels “blindsided” by the allegations because this is the first time Johnson is publicly airing his side of the story.
“It was time,” Johnson said in a teleconference Monday to promote the book, which is primarily about how his relationship with Bird transformed basketball. “We had an incredible relationship. We used to do everything together back in the day, and then that kind of faded. It was a tough period. Probably when we played those two championships made that happen. Then it just really went in opposite directions from then.”
What’s sad is that the differences between two of the greatest basketball players ever have lasted 20-plus years, in part, because both men were too proud to squash them. Fierce competitiveness made them phenomenal players, but it also ruined their personal relationship.
We’re talking about a relationship that has been broken now for well over 25 years. But in an incredibly emotional moment, the two finally came back together for an NBATV segment where they came face to face and reconciled. It’s a must-watch moment.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) December 20, 2017
That is a powerful moment and quite the achievement for NBATV to bring these two together for this reconciliation. The Twitter video itself has been viewed almost a million times already. It could be their biggest viral moment in the history of the network. And maybe it means we’ll see more transcendent moments like this where the league networks can bring together friends and rivals from the past for more of these very real and raw moments.
You can watch more videos about Isiah and Magic, their friendship, rivalry, and reconciliation by clicking here.