Drexler denies Dream Team comments about Magic… but he said them

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Life is never really all that simple and all that clean. Politicians like to paint issues as black or white, but all of us know life is lived in shades of gray.

So it is with Clyde Drexler’s comments on HIV-positive Magic Johnson as part of a new book about the 1992 Dream Team — “Everybody kept waiting for Magic to die. Every time he’d run up the court everybody would feel sorry for the guy, and he’d get all that benefit of the doubt.”

Drexler told the Associated Press he said no such thing.

“I was one of Magic’s biggest supporters during that difficult period in his life and I take great exception to having such comments attributed to me. Magic and I have a friendship that goes back more than 28 years and I would never say such hurtful things. I have reached out to Magic to assure him that I did not say those things and to apologize to him and his family for even having to respond to something as baseless as this.”

Thing is, I have no doubt he did say that. The book’s author Jack McCallum is not some novice reporter, he’s a 30-year Sports Illustrated veteran — and he knows to tape his interviews.

But that doesn’t mean there is context that should be taken into account. McCallum goes into all of that on his blog in what is a fascinating read. He talks about how 10 of the 12 players were named to the team before the start of the 1991-92 NBA season and that two spots were left open — one for a college player (Christian Laettner) and one spot for the best of the rest in the NBA. At that moment, Drexler was at the peak of his game and felt he should have been in the first 10. Drexler always has felt he didn’t get enough recognition.

Here is a slice of what McCallum added as context.

I didn’t feel comfortable writing that because Drexler is not a cruel man. But that’s what he said. Now, is there an element of truth to it? I can’t say for sure. What’s clear, though, is that it was extremely impolitic of Drexler to say it. And let me emphasize again that he wasn’t talking about the Dream Teamers but more the league in general.

But here’s something else that was not in the Deadspin excerpt but is in the book:

When Magic came back to the NBA after the Olympics, he faced renewed controversy, some of it coming from a Dream Team mate—Karl Malone. And in that charged atmosphere–freighted with ignorance, misunderstanding and, frankly, a dearth of information about a disease that we still can’t fully control–Drexler said this: “If Magic wants to play, I’ll play against him.”

It’s never that clean, it’s never really that simple in life.