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Original Issue


Many thanks to Bruce Newman for his excellent piece on the Laker-Celtic/Magic Johnson-Larry Bird rivalry (Together at Center Stage, June 4). This championship matchup is the best thing to happen in the NBA since these two marvelous players entered the league.

Bird is a great player, maybe the best forward ever, but Magic is unquestionably the most complete player in the game today. Statistics aside, Magic has an uncanny instinct for the game and can do anything necessary to help his team: scoring, rebounding, assists, steals, defense—and that's only half of Magic's game. The intangibles he provides—heart, court savvy and, most of all, boundless enthusiasm—make him my choice for MVP. Just imagine how much brighter Johnson will shine after the great Kareem retires, leaving much more of the responsibility for the Lakers' success with the Magic Man.

May the Lakers-Celtics/Magic-Bird final-round confrontations continue for years to come!
Monmouth Beach, N.J.

Bruce Newman must be kidding! Magic Johnson is a very fine player, but when he himself says Larry Bird is the best, that should prove the point. Bird wasn't blessed with extraordinary physical ability, so he has had to work extra hard for all he has accomplished. As a 16-year-old who plays basketball, I would model myself after the unflashy, hardworking, never-quit Bird.
Jefferson, S. Dak.

Bruce Newman's claim that Magic plays the more vital position is like arguing apples vs. oranges—teams have been championship contenders without a true point guard (the Celtics this year) or without an outstanding power forward (the 76ers last year). The most important position, of course, is center, and Magic has had the good fortune to play his entire pro career with perhaps the best ever, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

As for the better defensive player, even though Magic is a perennial league leader in steals, he doesn't play in-the-trenches defense. Bird, on the other hand, has been voted one of the 10 best defensive players in the NBA each of the past two seasons.

The notion that Magic has been the better money player may seem superficially attractive in light of Michigan State's conquest of Indiana State in 1979. But one must recall that Magic had two teammates, Jay Vincent and Greg Kelser, who have gone on to NBA careers; Bird almost singlehandedly put his school on the basketball map. His stellar performances led his team to NCAA tournament victories over such powerhouses as DePaul (with Mark Aguirre) and Arkansas (with Sidney Moncrief).

Newman also neglects a phase of the game that is both vital and easy to measure: free-throw shooting. Magic is a good foul shooter (.810 for the 1983-84 regular season); Bird's .888 ranks him as the best in the league.
New York City

Is it fair to compare Larry Bird's shooting while he's double- and triple-teamed to Magic's shooting when nobody is covering him and daring him to shoot? Is it fair to compare the rebounding of Johnson over Western Conference foes who are smaller than he is to Bird's shooting over taller Eastern Conference forwards? Is it fair to compare Magic's assists to Bird's when Magic has the ball in his hands every time up the court? Is it fair to compare two players in two totally different situations? No. So can we please leave it by saying that both are truly amazing and exciting players?
Hyde Park, Mass.

When my friends and I get together during the summer after school lets out, we spend a great deal of time talking about sports, each of us bragging about his college. Being from the University of Michigan, I've had an automatic edge in these arguments. I've had Stefan Humphries' name to drop.

As Douglas S. Looney's fine article (He Came Out Picture Perfect, June 4) pointed out, Stefan simply excels. On a typical fall weekend, I saw him as the engineering student in the library on Friday, as the offensive machine on the field on Saturday afternoon and as the gentle giant in church on Sunday. He's an outstanding football player whose absence will be sorely felt this fall. But even more, the people at Michigan will miss a man who has been a role model for all students—those who hit the defensive line and those who just hit the books.
Alexandria, Va.

Thank you for an informative and most refreshing article on a great student-athlete, Stefan Humphries. In light of the tremendous pressures placed on today's student-athletes to excel on the field and perform in the classroom while also trying to find time to be normal human beings, one can only admire the young men and women who have the discipline and motivation to achieve such lofty goals. All academic counselors for athletes in our country have enjoyed having good students, but if each of us could hang one sign in our athletes' dressing rooms, it would be a quote from Humphries: AN ATHLETE SHOULD COME TO SCHOOL WITH SOME PRIORITIES IN MIND. HE SHOULD MAKE EDUCATION THE FIRST PRIORITY.
National Association of Academic
Advisors for Athletics
Austin, Texas

I wish Stefan Humphries well in his football career and, more important, in his medical career. Many people are going to benefit from this fine man's dedication and skills.
San Pedro, Calif.

For this Braves baseball follower, the story on Phil Niekro (Knucksie Hasn't Lost His Grip, June 4) by Steve Wulf was a pleasure to read. Many fans can remember the era when Braves baseball stood for two things: Niekro and Hank Aaron. The way Knucksie was released by Atlanta was an embarrassment for the fans. I only hope Phil keeps the knuckleball dancing and keeps winning for the Yankees. His attitude and style during his many years as a Brave have shown us that an athlete can be a winner and a gentleman at the same time. Manager Joe Torre and coach Bob Gibson should take a few lessons.
Knoxville, Tenn.

In July 1970 I took several kids down to newly opened Riverfront Stadium to see the Reds play the Braves. While most of the players on both teams seemed to ignore kids requesting autographs, I was very impressed that Phil Niekro made it a point to stay and sign until the last kid left. After I read Steve Wulf's excellent story, my mind went back to that July night. It's nice to know that Niekro hasn't changed over the years.
West Jefferson, Ohio

Phil and Joe Niekro often visit their former high school. This past year the athletic booster club received a nice contribution from Phil for a new weight room. At an alumni banquet Phil greeted all of his former classmates. Two years ago, the Braves were in the race for the pennant, and knowing that Phil always wanted to play in a World Series, I wished him luck. His response was, "I hope to win the Series for the Ohio Valley and my dad." These are some of the things that make Phil Niekro a first-class person.
Bridgeport High School
Bridgeport, Ohio

Jim Kaplan's article (Taking Steps to Solve the Drug Dilemma, May 28) on the drug problem in professional baseball was interesting. While some readers may think that these athletes get preferential treatment from the criminal system's courts, as a policeman I can attest that this isn't always the case. Every week I see offenders come to court for drug offenses and many of them never even see a jail cell. The courts bend over backwards to channel these people into every avenue available other than jail. The treatment of athletes isn't the exception but the rule.
Ewing Township, N.J.

Congratulations to Ivan Maisel for so poignantly telling the story of Rod Scurry and for letting other troubled athletes know that guys like Don Robinson are out there waiting to help. When Scurry says, "I love Don Robinson," it reminds me of the story of Brian Piccolo and Gale Sayers and the bond that can develop between two athletes. Pro sports and the world need more Don Robinsons.
Palo Alto, Calif.

Regarding your article on baseball's drug dilemma, Ferguson Jenkins cannot accurately be described as a person who was "convicted" of drug possession and whose record was cleared.

Rather, he was the beneficiary of Section 662.1 of the Canadian Criminal Code, which allows the court, after having found an accused person guilty of certain offenses, to decide not to take the further judicial step of registering a conviction. This avenue can be taken only if the court finds it to be "in the best interests of the accused," and "not contrary to the public interest."

Jenkins, having been granted a discharge, may honestly state he has never been convicted of a criminal offense. The distinction, which was not made by your writer, is, for obvious reasons, an important one.
Cobourg, Ontario

Irish eyes were smiling on all of SI's golf readers when they had the opportunity to read Sarah Pileggi's article Playing Ancient Games (June 4). What a fantastic account of golf from the old sod! A tip of my tam-o'-shanter to Pileggi and to Graham Finlayson for his outstanding photographs.
Wilkes-Barre, Pa.

Now you've done it! Just when I was satisfied with my comfortable life you made me want to pack up and head for Ireland. Seldom has an article in SI grabbed me the way this one did. The green of Ireland must be the greenest in all the world. The linksland, wind, heather, sand hills, goats—the exceptional rugged beauty of the land—really got to me. I sure would like to share a Bushmills hot with the gentleman walking his dog. I might even scrape up a biscuit for the dog.
Boynton Beach, Fla.

I want to sincerely thank you for publishing my picture (19TH HOLE, June 4) and reader Marshall Baker for writing such a beautiful letter. The smile on my face surely tells how I feel about my accomplishment. It's still going strong, especially now that I've found my photograph in SPORTS ILLUSTRATED—another dream of mine.

I have one more big goal in the immediate future. I hope I can share it with the world.


Midway through the Celtics' Game 5 rout of the Lakers, SI's camera caught an unidentified Boston fan displaying his anti-Magic sentiments.

Letters should include the name, address and home telephone number of the writer and be addressed to The Editor, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, Time & Life Building, Rockefeller Center, New York, N.Y. 10020.