I woke up ready to write about the reconciliation between formerly estranged friends Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas. The video of their tearful hug popped up on social media and I thought it would be the thing that gave me the biggest emotional reaction of the day.
Then news broke that Combat Jack died.
Combat Jack, real name Reggie Osse, is an icon. His start as an attorney for early Jay-Z and Noreaga gave way to writing about Hip-Hop and eventually launching the Loud Speakers podcast network that put black voices at the forefront. Combat has always been and will always be known as one of those people who only cared about helping others and doing what he can to better people’s lives. The “take his shirt off of his back” cliche goes around when people pass, but it was absolutely true about Combat.
The last time I saw Combat was A3C here in Atlanta. We’d known each other for years and kept in touch mostly through social media, bumping into one another on occasion. The conversation we had at A3C took me by surprise. He gave me a pep talk about my writing, my life and purpose. He spoke with his patented enthusiasm and intensity that’s only genuine. The talk boosted my confidence and sense of purpose. I went home and woke my wife up to tell her what Combat said to me. I’ve thought about that conversation a lot in the last couple of months and I understand why Combat spoke with so much passion: he cared so much about black people being as vocal as possible. He wanted our voices heard and dedicated his life to it. I’ve found myself reaching two months into the past trying to hold on to that moment again, wanting to relive it more vividly with each passing minute.
So when our conversation ended, we dapped up and gave the generic phrase that doesn’t seem so generic anymore: “it’s all love.”
Combat is at the front of my mind but I still can’t help but think about Magic and Isiah. Because it’s all about the power of love.
Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas used to be best friends. They came up in the NBA together in the 80s, dreaming of greatness. They used to embrace before each game and celebrate one another even as competitors. They defied the silly masculine notions that opponents had to have nasty attitudes towards one another off the court. Then their relationship deteriorated in one of the nastiest ways imaginable.
Magic Johnson revealed in 2009 that he helped keep Thomas out of the 92’ Dream Team because he felt betrayed, accusing the Pistons point guard of spreading rumors about Johnson’s sexuality in the wake of his 1992 HIV revelation. Thomas denied those allegations, citing the fact he fought to allow Magic to still play after the diagnosis in the wake of players like Karl Malone protesting otherwise. And Thomas’ pre-game kiss on the cheek with Magic in the 1992 All-Star game was a pivotal cultural moment dispelling many of the myths about HIV at the time.
Nobody knows the truth and after enough time passes, the truth doesn’t matter nearly as much as the pain that scabs up over it. Now, decades after their split, Johnson and Thomas have come face to face. The video that NBA TV released of the two crying as they get over their past issues has captivated social media for its raw emotion. For me, it’s a wakeup call.
We live in an era where cutting people off is celebrated. And, oftentimes, cutting off toxic people in the short term is necessary and helpful. But it can also be addicting. The healthy balance between cutting people off and healing often tilts towards the easier option of just shutting someone out forever. Especially for men. Because eliminating someone who I feel has wronged me is easier than looking that person in the eye and telling him or her that I was hurt. It’s just easier to never speak again, burying memories and feelings away and fighting them when they dare to return.
Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas fought through that desire to hold on to their pride and anger. Instead, they chose love. Hearing Magic’s voice crack and seeing Isiah’s breakdown showed me how much they missed each other. They didn’t have to push those emotions to the surface again, but they chose to.
Because love is a choice, and can be the hardest choice to make when given a bevy of different options. And that’s why I keep thinking about Magic, Isiah and Combat together today. Because they all chose love – especially now in a world where it’s so hard to make that choice. Magic and Isiah chose to fight through their pain to love each other again. And Combat Jack lived his life by loving on us every single day. He made love his life’s work by working for us and with us. God don’t make mistakes and the two reminders of unending love are shining brighter than the hate the world is piling on us. It’s the message Combat spread and it won’t die as long as the people he’s touched are around to spread it.
Rest In Peace.