Magic responds to Drexler's comments
NBA legend Magic Johnson responded Wednesday to candid comments by retired NBA star Clyde Drexler in "Dream Team," the forthcoming book by Jack McCallum that examines the 1992 US Olympic basketball team.
In the book, which will be released July 10, Drexler told McCallum he resented that Johnson was named MVP in the 1992 All-Star Game and made the Olympic team, saying that his inclusion was based on sympathy for Johnson's then-recent HIV diagnosis.
Drexler also suggested that Johnson's on-court abilities had declined.
"He couldn't play much by that time. He couldn't guard his shadow. ... But you have to understand what was going on then. Everybody kept waiting for Magic to die," Drexler said, in an excerpt quoted in Deadspin. "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."
In a video interview with The Wall Street Journal, Johnson, who said he had not been informed about Drexler's comments, registered his first response.
"If that's how he felt, then that's how he felt. I think that Clyde was a guy that always fought for more publicity ... a guy who thought he should deserve more credit. But if he felt like that, I'm OK with it. I'm not a guy who's going to be upset that he said these types of things," Johnson said.
"I think that what I would say is that, [from] Clyde or anyone else, I didn't want any sympathy. Only thing I wanted is that you treated me the same way that you treated me before you knew I had HIV," he added.
Drexler is denying that he made negative statements about Johnson in the book.
Drexler said in a phone interview that the quotes attributed to him were ''totally ludicrous'' and he has ''no idea'' where McCallum got them. In a statement released through the Houston Rockets, Drexler says he would've never said those things and that Johnson is one of his closest long-time friends.
''Magic and I have a friendship that goes back more than 28 years and I would never say such hurtful things,'' Drexler's statement said. ''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.''
McCallum's book is due out on July 10.
On his Web site, McCallum said the excerpt is accurate. Deadspin.com ran the excerpt on Tuesday, and McCallum said the site mischaracterized the context. Drexler was referring to the opinion of many people in the league, McCallum said, and not specifically members of the 1992 Olympic team.
Drexler, now an analyst for the Rockets' locally televised games, said in the statement that he was one of Johnson's biggest supporters in the wake of the diagnosis that led to his retirement in November 1991.
''I take great exception to having such comments attributed to me,'' Drexler said. ''I have nothing but love and respect for Magic Johnson and all that he has accomplished in basketball and in life. I always took pride in being a great teammate throughout my career and I would never have made the statements that were reported in Jack McCallum's book.''
McCallum interviewed Drexler at his home and got the sense that Drexler felt snubbed when he wasn't one of the first 10 players named to the much-celebrated team. He was added to the team later, along with Duke's Christian Laettner.
McCallum said he didn't feel comfortable writing about what Drexler said, but he stands by the quote.
''Now, is there an element of truth to it? I can't say for sure,'' McCallum wrote. ''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.''
One key element excluded from the Deadspin excerpt, McCallum said, was that Drexler ''stood tallest of all the Dream Teamers in welcoming Magic back to the league'' in 1996.