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Sunday, March 3, 2013

Dunk the Magic Ball, Win a Million Dollars

Magic Johnson has offered a one-million dollar prize to the winner of the slam dunk contest at next year's NBA All-Star Game.  He is doing this in an attempt to cajole Lebron James to participate in the contest.  James, while highly proficient in the skill (art?) of hurling a ball with great force through a basketball hoop, has eschewed the dunk contest, in favor of more dignified All-Star weekend festivities, like the corn-dog eating challenge. (It's possible.)  James is said to be considering the offer.

Now, I have a great deal of respect for Magic Johnson.  He was a great player--one of those on the short list of "greatest ever" candidates.  Moreover, when he retired from the game at the peak of his popularity after testing positive for HIV, he took the gutsy step of not hiding from the truth, not trying to disguise the fact of his condition with vague statements about his health or with claims that he wished to spend more time with his family.  At a time when AIDS was an all-but-automatic death sentence and its victims were often treated as modern-day lepers, Magic became the face of resistance to the disease and a tireless advocate for medical research.  In the years since, he has become a hugely successful businessman, and he has used his fame and fortune to promote entrepreneurship in minority communities.  What I'm getting at is, Magic has done a great deal of good in his life both for the game of basketball and for society at large, and I suppose he has earned the right to do whatever he wants with his money.  But still, aren't there better ways to throw away a million bucks?

It's not like Lebron James needs the money.  And even though other participants in the contest may not be at a Lebron-esque pay grade, they're still athletes who get paid a one-percenter salary for playing a child's game.  (The minimum NBA salary for a player with NO experience is over $470,000 a year.)  Plus, the winner of the dunk contest right now already gets $100,000.

When I first read about this story, I assumed that Magic was offering, say, to donate $1 million to the charity of Lebron's choice if he (Lebron) participated in and won the dunk contest.  (Presumably, he would make the same donation on the behalf of a player who beat Lebron.)  Heck, he could even guarantee smaller donations to charities on behalf of all the participants.  Such an offer would be in keeping with Magic's public image and would be a far more tasteful offer for Lebron to accept.  The offer, as it stands, is an uncharacteristic PR misstep for someone who has made very few of them.

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