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The problem with the Isiah Thomas-Magic Johnson moment

We have that and more in Wednesday’s NBA newsletter.

Magic Johnson, Isiah Thomas NBA TV capture

NBA TV broadcast a well-publicized one-on-one conversation between legends Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas on Tuesday. It ended with a touching moment widely shared: Magic apologizing to Isiah, his old friend, for hurting him through their 25-year estrangement, and the two embracing.

Magic's stated reason for the estrangement — that Isiah did not support Magic upon his 1991 HIV diagnosis announcement, and that Magic credibly believed Isiah spread rumors about Magic's sexuality as a result of the diagnosis — is addressed only briefly in NBA TV's package that aired Tuesday.

It is not addressed by Magic or Isiah. A quote from Magic with that accusation from Jackie MacMullan's seminal When The Game Was Ours is presented via voiceover; it is followed by a 2009 on-camera denial by Isiah. That's it. Unless there is more of the interview that NBA TV will release later that touches on it — doubtful, because everyone was waiting on that specific reckoning, and it'd be the lead story from the sit-down — the two never actually discussed the reason for the estrangement in the first place.

That's fine if Magic didn't want to dredge it up. But when you realize that Isiah doesn’t actually appear to acknowledge any role in the estrangement, the luster of the moment of the embrace dims considerably.

Why? In part because this sort of thing appears to be a pattern with Isiah. In 2007, a jury found Thomas had sexually harassed Knicks executive Anucha Browne Sanders. Madison Square Garden paid out $11 million as a result. As recently as 2015, Isiah continued to claim he did not do what Browne Sanders claimed and a jury believed. In fact, as recently as 2015, Isiah continued to deny what the jury found. He was found by a jury to have done something awful and has not, at least publicly, taken responsibility for his actions.

It's nice that Magic and Isiah have a relationship again, if that's what they want. But the twee reboot of Isiah Thomas is a bit much. (The irony of this conversation being aired the day after Magic's organization had an over-the-top celebration for Kobe Bryant, who was accused of rape 14 years ago, is not lost on me.)

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