Callie and I were thirteen the summer of ‘87, the summer the Los Angeles Lakers won the World Championship. During the school months, we were required to wear the Saint Vibiana uniform, only the purple and gold of our hair ribbons displaying our loyalty, but once school was out, we dressed as our true selves—that is, Laker fans. One afternoon, we walked on Venice Boulevard, the heat from the sidewalk scorching our shins, searching for one of Callie’s beauty supply stores. She wore purple metallic leggings and a billowing gold t-shirt, LAKERS purple silkscreened across the front, and I had on Magic Johnson’s away jersey, with yellow home shorts. As always, I wore the purple-and-gold Converse, my birthday and Christmas presents combined. Once we found the shop and Callie bought her “Natural Girl” crème, we headed home, keeping an eye out for the eastward bus, moving from stop to stop if we couldn’t see the bus in the distance. We had to be alert. Some girls in that neighborhood might not appreciate us, might want to challenge us. From about a mile away you could tell I was white and if you got close, you might notice Callie wasn’t entirely black—was part something else. Chinese, they might think. Those girls on Venice could be mean and we needed to keep moving.
A red Maserati roared down the street, quickly pulling over, tinted window descending low. A hand extended in a wave — a hand freakishly large. A hand belonging to Magic Johnson.
“How you doin’, girls?” he said.
Callie was so astonished she sank in a heap on the sidewalk. That made Magic laugh.
“Fine. And yourself?” I said, but my voice was high, hardly audible, sounding like the mouse my father sometimes trapped beneath the sink.
Magic waved again, the window hissed shut, and the Maserati rocketed away.
All that bus ride home, Callie and I clutched each other, shrieking at the memory of how our proud wearing of the Lakers colors had inspired Magic Johnson. Next season, perhaps at the very moment he released his junior sky hook, capturing yet another crown, would he think of us, two gutsy girls urging him to victory?
My Irish immigrant parents thought my basketball playing was faffing about, an American waste of time, the scoring so frequent as to be absurd. But they indulged me, their only child, in my passion. At night my father sat beside me on the sofa to watch the Lakers, though he could never love them the way I did. Soccer was his sport, his beautiful game. His bhoys.
My mother loved the beach.