Bill Plaschke has a nice column about Magic Johnson. I have run across him a couple of times and every time I did my experience was very similar to the one that Plaschke describes. Here is an excerpt from the piece.
“Hovan, in town for a medical conference, was shopping on Rodeo Drive with family that included his 9-year-old daughter Emily and two nieces.
Across the street, the girls saw a giant man in a white sweatsuit whom they immediately recognized.
“It was Magic Johnson, and they started begging me to cross the street and take his picture,” Hovan said.
The first thing that struck the doctor was, how are these little girls so familiar with an athlete whom they never saw play? How did they even know Magic Johnson?
Then he realized his nieces, who live in Southern California, know him from their father being a longtime Lakers fan. And his daughter knew him from watching him on the TNT studio basketball show, seeing his Magic Johnson Theatre and visiting one of his Starbucks.
“I thought, it’s amazing how this man’s impact spans generations,” he said.
Having been ignored by his only other encounter with a pro athlete in his life — Johnny Bench once blew him off — Hovan turned down the girls’ request.
“I didn’t want them to experience the pain of being brushed off,” he said. “And I didn’t want them to change the opinion of one of their heroes.”
Johnson had stopped at a crosswalk light, and the girls kept insisting, so Hovan finally gulped and walked over to him.
“The first thing I noticed was, he was all by himself, nobody around him,” Hovan said.
The next thing he noticed was that Johnson didn’t try to run, or hide. In fact, when Hovan shakily introduced himself and the girls, Johnson actually came to them.
“He bent down and hugged them,” said Hovan. “He asked how they were doing. He put his arms around them and got ready for the picture.”
At which point, the camera’s button stuck. Of course it stuck. Isn’t that always happening to common folk looking for photos of famous folk? The camera breaking just long enough to remind everyone of their place in life, the famous folk walking away in a . . .
“But that was the thing,” said Hovan. “He didn’t walk away. He stayed there and talked to the girls while I fidgeted with the camera.”
While Hovan fidgeted, other pedestrians noticed the pausing Magic and hustled over for their own photos. Then a busload of foreign tourists abruptly pulled up and dozens disembarked to join the scrum.
“It was just awful, I felt so terrible, I held Mr. Johnson up just long enough for him to be swarmed,” said Hovan.
Johnson stayed and waited until Hovan fixed the camera and took the photo, then stuck around to take care of everyone else, at which point the doctor noticed something else.
The entire time, Johnson never stopped smiling. He never stopped chatting. He embraced and engaged and touched everyone.
“He went far beyond any measure of responsibility that a public figure should feel,” said Hovan. “He stayed far longer than was reasonable.”
Surely there was a reality show camera around there somewhere?
“That was the interesting thing,” said Hovan. “Nobody was with him. Nobody was watching. There was no reason he needed to stay there other than, he was just being himself.”