Mystery Man & the Magic Man

If you haven’t already watched this Magic Johnson mix, watch it now. And if you’ve already watched this Magic Johnson mix, watch it again. Because Magic manipulated space and time with the panache of a dough-flipping pizzaiolo. Because this footage is evidence of basketball genius, a portal into history that reveals brilliance too incandescent for mere description. Seeing is the only understanding, here. Though your understanding is elevated for having these visual epiphanies set to Chick Hearn’s manic hosannahs. Hearn never quite captures what the hell Johnson’s doing, but the revved joy in Chick’s cadence testifies to just how special the indescribable is.

So thank you to NonPlayerZealot (NPZ is keeping his true identity hidden) for letting us see, understand, and relive. He’s the one who rescued so many of these Magic Johnson highlights from oblivion, he’s the one who worked so hard to orchestrate the best highlight mix I’ve seen. And despite the limitations of words, I do have questions for this anonymous mix maker:

ESS: You certainly curated an amazing digital museum with this Magic Johnson mix. Who are you and why did you do it?

NPZ: I’m just an average Laker fan from Southern Calif and I enjoy watching old NBA games, even during the regular season.  Though I enjoy all eras of Laker basketball, I consider Magic to be my “sports idol”.  I grew up watching that era of the Lakers and his personality was always endearing to me.  He was a very inclusive, friendly person who felt his job was to get everyone involved and his great passing and “2-steps-ahead” thinking were what made that visible to the fans.  He and Bird made sharing entertaining and other teams tried to mimic what LA and Boston were doing.  That was inherently good for the league.  I very much miss this era of basketball.  I don’t criticize Jordan for spawning a generation of volume chuckers.  The problem is that the great majority of them can’t do what he could on the basketball floor and no one can convince them otherwise.

I made this video as an homage to Magic and Chick Hearn in particular, but also as a nod to the best aspects of the league as it used to be.  I have a secondary interest in history, basketball or otherwise, and I feel there should be a chronicle of past players available for newer fans to learn from and for older fans to revisit.  That duty falls on the shoulders of the fans.  There are decent Magic “mixes” and more talented video editors out there, but I didn’t feel there was a compilation/mix/reel devoted to Mag with highlights that we haven’t seen a hundred times.

ESS: How the hell did you plumb this Magic Johnson footage from the depths of 1980′s regular season obscurity? Sorcery? Paleontology?

NPZ: It’s kind of a sick-sad hobby, but there are a number of olde tyme sports junkies who “tape trade” and buy old games.  I’ve been recording and “surfing the net” for years trying to find people who recorded back then.  I was at the right place at the right time to receive some early 80s footage (at the start of the video).  Local LA feeds of early 80s games are the rarest things to find.  If you want a reason why, it’s that many VCRs in 1981 costed over $1000 and blank tapes were upwards of $10 apiece.  The more tedious thing than finding the games is editing them.  It took months of work during free time just to get those clips to look and sound like halfway decent standard def footage.  That is incidentally why a lot of mixers hide the audio with music and don’t bother trying to beautify the video content.  In addition, clips plucked from premade highlight packages often don’t contain the play-by-play.  To do something like “The Magic Man”, you must first have a shoebox or two of original broadcasts.  It’s distracting to see a mix that contains clips that were recorded from ESPN, including the news crawl at the bottom of the screen.

ESS: Loved how you went minimalist here, choosing to use Chick Hearn’s voice as a natural soundtrack. Do you think mixmakers often err in ladening their highlights with music and graphics? Do you think your video would have gotten such a positive response had you set it to say, “Hard in da paint”?

NPZ: Yes, to the first question.  NO!, to the second question.  You can’t go wrong with the announcer who coined the term “slam dunk” and “airball”.  Chick had a warmth of voice and personality that we Laker fans could listen to all day.  The crescendo he could reach during great plays gives you goosebumps.  Chick is about the only constant for a fanbase so spoiled that we sometimes rip our legends for stupid things they say on TNT.  The only clip I deliberately used instead of the Chick version, which I also have, was the very last clip, the 80 foot shot.  That was a tip of the hat to Skip Caray, the longtime Atlanta Braves and Turner Network broadcaster.  I enjoyed his sense of humor and sarcasm.  He was one of those old school multi-sport announcers like Chick was decades ago.  RIP Skip.

If I had used a rap song to back the video, I would’ve gotten nasty replies.  The only rap or hip hop which is era specific would be something along the lines of RUN DMC or similar acts (I’m thinking “Run’s House” or “It’s Tricky”).  I can tolerate mixes that use old songs, but it depends on the music.  At least tie the era in with the songs you’re using.  However, if given a choice, I’d prefer the commentary over any music at all.  Some mixes which use mood music with commentary of the announcer peeking out from behind it can be enjoyable if they’re very well produced.  There’s a Pippen superfan on youtube named Scottie33Pippen who excels at this.  I’m hoping that I have sparked an NPZ minimalist movement, though.  I’d like to see a comment like, “Hey, I rly like how you NPZ’d you’re mix, d00d!!1″

ESS: If you HAD to set these highlights to music, what CDs/songs would you pick?

NPZ: There’s a vid made by expiredpineapples (one of the oldest mixes on the web) featuring the Showtime Lakers that was done the way I would do it.  He used a handful of 70s and 80s grooves such as “Love Come Down” by Evelyn King and “The Midas Touch” by Midnight Star.  Those feel appropriate and the kind of music that Magic himself probably listened to.  I would probably look into Lionel Richie or Kool N The Gang to see if anything of theirs would mesh.  ”Give It To Me” by Rick James has a beat and a lyric hook that I’m surprised no one has used for any mix at all.  There was an old NBA bit from the early 80s of Magic that repeated the hook from “You Can Do Magic” by America.  It worked well enough for a non-dance, non-”jam”.  I’ve also seen an inspiring montage by KCAL 9 that featured Steve Winwood’s “Back In The High Life” in reference to Magic’s 1992 comeback attempt — the lyrics of which fit perfectly with the situation.  That one’s an example of how the mood of the video should dictate the song that’s used.

ESS: For years, I worshipped at the alter of the four-ish Magic Johnson fastbreak passes that were replayed again and again. Your video revealed how much I’d been missing. Prior to making this, did it bother you that our collective picture of his greatness was so incomplete?

NPZ: It did. We all have seen the same 30 or so Magic highlights over and over, even from NBA-produced vids.  Here’s the thing with Magic, though.  These clips were culled from about 75 games give or take.  I knew some plays that I wanted to put in there for sure, but one could take any 75 game sample and come up with a different batch of highlights of the same basic quality.  His routine stuff was the nightly highlight for many reputed passers who came after him.  No offense to Bron, whom I admit is a good passer, but I cringe when I read one of his fans call him a Magic Johnson-like passer.  Nope.  Not in terms of quantity for damn sure.  I have multiple gms where I had to make a choice between 3-4 different plays and a number of Magic passes that were astounding, but didn’t result in a basket.  There are some that Mychal Thompson screwed up that pained me.  Myc was a highlight assist killer.

ESS: Does your heart pang at the thought of how many great athlete highlights will never surface?

NPZ: Yes.  The NBA did a horrible job of recording for posterity even in the late 70s and early 80s.  Horrible.  There is practically nothing of Baylor and West to give fans an appreciation of their titles as all-time greats.  Baylor was the MJ of his era and there’s almost nothing.  No footage of Wilt’s 100 pt gm exists even though he was leading up to something that special on a nightly basis.  The one definitive compilation that needs to be made is Julius Erving’s.  I don’t think it’s feasible, however.  He not only played in the ABA (I wouldn’t doubt if they only filmed games on 8 mm home movie reels), but his most entertaining NBA years were late 70s, early 80s.  A 15 minute compilation of Dr. J’s great moves would shatter some younger fans’ belief that the 70s and 80s NBA didn’t have any athletes who could dominate today.  Erving could do some ridiculous things with those meathooks he had for hands and with his swivel shoulders.  It’s a sad indictment that he had to sell his memorabilia.

Related posts:

  1. Larry and Magic: What might have been might have been bad
  2. Basketball Culture 101: Magic, Bird And Cultural Memory
  3. How a division of labor will get the Magic offense back on track
  4. Where’s The Magic Gone?: 5 Adjustments Orlando Must Make For Game 2
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