Magic Johnson and Larry Bird have "co-written" a new book about their lives in the NBA that, among other things, paints a not very flattering portrait of their sometime rival Isiah Thomas. With friends like these, who needs Bill Simmons?
According to interviews Thomas gave to Sports Illustrated this week, the biggest head turner in the book is the claim—made by Magic and his agent, Lon Rosen—that after Johnson was diagnosed with HIV in 1991, Thomas was the one spreading rumors that Magic might have contracted the virus because he was gay.
"Isiah kept questioning people about it,'' Magic says. "I couldn't believe that. The one guy I thought I could count on had all these doubts. It was like he kicked me in the stomach.''
Thomas says that's "bullshit." His own brother died of AIDS and he says he knows better than to spread rumors like that. Thomas also claims that he was the one who led the charge to get Magic a spot in the 1992 All-Star Game, when most of the players were refusing to take the court with an HIV+ player—a fact that's conveniently left out of the book. Now he's furious to discover that this legendary friendship was apparently a sham.
"It's so hypocritical,'' said Thomas, "There's this public person and then there's this b.s. person. There's Earvin and then there's Magic. OK, I understand you've got to sell a book. But if this is how you sell it, then who's kicking who in the stomach? And it's just like the line he perpetuated that he got me the Knicks' job. Oh, yeah? Ask [Knicks owner] Jim Dolan. Call Barry Watkins [the Knicks' senior VP]. That's a lie.
"You're talking about being two-faced? Magic says he put me up for the job, that he was showing up in hard times and telling me everything was OK. And I come to find out he's been the one stabbing me in the back. ... I'm really hurt and disappointed, particularly with the Olympic team, if he was doing that stuff.''
The last part refers to another item in the book, where Magic basically admits that Isiah was shut out of the Olympic Dream Team because no one wanted to play with him. He also blames the whole "Jordan freeze out" at the '85 All-Star Game on Thomas too. Meanwhile, Isiah says the even bigger lie is Magic's current friendship with Larry Bird. ("Magic hated Larry, and he tried to make other people hate Larry.")
It takes a special kind of jerk to make people feel sorry for Isiah Thomas, but Magic just might be that guy. Whoever you believe, it's pretty clear from this sordid tale—and Michael Jordan's Hall of Fame speech, among other incidents—that pretty much every superstar you idolized as a kid is a selfish, insecure, backstabbing prick. Of course, that's also why they were all such awesome basketball players.