2017 was a memorable year in the basketball world.
There were moments of dominance like the Beermen’s growing dynasty or the San Beda’s continued reign over the NCAA. There were redemption stories like Ateneo reclaiming the UAAP from La Salle crown or the Golden State Warriors erasing their 3-1 curse from last year with a chip this year. There were teams and players that emerged from out of nowhere. The Lyceum Pirates not only won games but they changed lives while Alvin Pasaol scored 49 points, cementing his cult legend status.
The basketball played on court wasn’t too bad as well. Russ averaged a triple-double, Ben Mbala wrecked rims, and Ginebra set attendance records in the Governor’s Cup Finals.
To close out a great year, the SLAM PH team recalls their favorite moments in 2017 and their basketball wishes for the new year.
An epic one-on-one showdown between two greats—basketball fantasies are made of these. I’ve always wanted to see MJ vs Kobe, 2011 LeBron vs 2017 LeBron, Magic vs Bird, KD vs Russ. But last week, two NBA legends and estranged friends, Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas, figured in a different kind of one-on-one, a kind I didn’t know I needed.
Magic and Isiah battled it out in the 80s like no other, not allowing their friendship to get in the way of basketball glory. They kissed each other on the cheek before tipoff as friends but they shoved and hammered each other on the court as fierce competitors.
Magic was all about Showtime then. His trademark smile, the no-look passes, and the brutal battles against the Larry Bird and the Boston Celtics and Thomas and the Detroit Pistons defined what 80s basketball was all about. He retired in ’96 and has been a bastion of inspiration and courage ever since he was diagnosed with HIV 25 years ago.
Modern Day Magic still has the same charismatic grin, but the show is now behind the curtains of the Lakers franchise, as he wheels and deals as the man in charge of basketball operations.
The story of Isiah’s post-NBA career arc, on the other hand, has been shakier. While Magic continued to charm his way through the new era (questionable tweets notwithstanding), Isiah wasn’t able to get to the same elite level that he once shared with Magic during their playing days.
A lot of that will be blamed on his horrific stint as president of basketball operations—then later as head coach—of the New York Knicks, which came with controversies that somewhat tarnished his legacy. So while his peers Bird, Jordan, and Magic are able to enjoy fruits of what they accomplished as basketball players, Isiah was mostly in the shadows. You always hear “Larry Legend,” or “GOAT,” or “Magic.” You almost never hear “Zeke.”
It certainly didn’t help that he didn’t have an OK relationship with the three. It didn’t help that his friendship with Magic has soured over allegations that he spread rumors on Magic’s sexuality. It didn’t help that stories of how he was kept off the ’92 Dream Team came out, further painting Isiah as a guy who’s not liked very much. It didn’t help that the story itself came from his close friend, Magic.
And that is why on one Wednesday morning in December, sitting on my office chair, I found myself struggling (and ultimately failing) to hold back tears as I watched Magic and Isiah end their decades-long feud.
— NBA TV (@NBATV) December 20, 2017
“You are my brother, and I apologize to you if I hurt you that we hadn’t been together. God is good to bring us back together,” Magic told Isiah.
The fact that they did the intimate heart-to-heart talk on TV wasn’t lost on me. I’m emotionally triggered in moments like this. I may or may have not shed a tear when Hulk Hogan handed the championship belt to Ultimate Warrior after their match in Wrestlemania VI or when Shawn Michaels and Bret Hart shook hands in the middle of the ring in 2010. Or when Allen Iverson paid tribute to Larry Brown, a coach he didn’t always see eye to eye with, when he received his All-Star MVP trophy. Or when Durant gave his “You’re the real MVP” speech. I can’t wait for his next MVP speech where he gives a shoutout to Russell Westbrook.
My favorite basketball moments are the ones that evoke feelings I didn’t know I had. I didn’t know that overcoming insurmountable odds can be so inspiring until AI’s step-over in Game 1 of the ’01 Finals. I was unsure about “puso” as a battle cry until I saw Jimmy Alapag hit big 3 after big 3 against South Korea in 2013. These are the moments that make you rethink everything. It goes beyond basketball.
In their one-on-one talk, Magic and Isiah briefly touched upon the subject of being leaders during the peak of their respective basketball careers in the 80s. They didn’t know it then, but they know it now. Their on-air reconciliation was them embracing their roles as leaders, letting go of the bitterness, teaching us a lesson in forgiveness and friendship.
The Magic and Isiah reconciliation was the feel-good story we all needed to end the year.
They’ve been basketball heroes for decades and their Showtime and Bad Boy highlights from the 80s will continue to populate “greatest of all-time” lists for years to come. But their greatest highlight reel (and the one I might keep coming back to) is the one that happened just last week, when Magic and Isiah stopped being Magic and Isiah. It’s the one where they are two men reviving a broken friendship.
Photos from Getty Images