That’s just Magic.
It’s a phrase that anyone who ever had the privilege to meet Danny Edwards “Magic” Johnson has stated at least a handful of times, whether at Hilltop Lanes in Waxahachie or during his time serving residents with the parks and recreation department.
Magic was born Sept. 10, 1953 in Odessa. Seventeen years later his family moved east to Maypearl, which is where he graduated high school from in 1972.
He later went to work for the City of Waxahachie in the parks and recreation department for 20 years and retired from there in 2007. Waxahachie Parks and Recreation director John Smith said Magic was a dear friend of the department and he enjoyed the time the two spent together.
But outside of those scarce details, very few truly ever knew Magic outside of his patented double-clap and slide to the right just before the ball struck the pins.
“Magic was a very private person,” said Richard Lonon, who purchased Hilltop Lanes in 1995. Richard has known Magic since he and his wife, Donna, began bowling in Waxahachie in 1980.
In fact, when he purchased the bowling alley from John and Donna Corey, Richard was told, “Magic comes with the center.”
“He told me that I inherited him,” Richard recalled with a laugh while sitting at a square tabletop on the raised deck at the end of lanes No. 9 and 10 on Thursday night. “He also said that I had to feed him, too.”
Richard made sure the newest owners, Scott and Deb Dodson, knew the same stipulations when they purchased the alley from him in 2016.
As he spoke, the lane machine that lays out a fresh oil pattern moved toward lane No. 16 and teams began to file in for the first Thursday Night 9-pin league night without Magic.
It was readily apparent that everyone in the alley was more than aware of the fact as they began to collect their items from the lockers and put on their shoes.
“Thursday night bowlers, let me have your attention, please,” Richard said from behind the front counter and into the microphone. “Before we start practice, and I know most of you know, but Magic Johnson passed away this week.”
He then asked for a moment of silence and, after returning back to his table, said, “that was hard. Whew.”
Magic was slated to bowl with his team, Pit Crew, on the adjacent lanes, No. 7 and 8. It was there on the lower level that Gary Palmerlee, Bruce Johnson and Pat Gant sat and waited to hear “Exodus” by Ferrante & Teicher play over the sound system. Pat later expressed to Richard that it was Magic’s favorite pre-match song, something that he, Ronnie Moore and Debbie Moore, who comprise Deadwood, already knew. Ronnie even made sure to choose the right version of the song before the first frame was bowled.
After all, it was just seven days ago that Magic was on the lanes and well enough to bowl a 174 in game one, 125 in game two and 195 in game three for a 494 series. He carried a 198 average on Thursdays and had bowled in each of the first 13 weeks of the 34-week season.
Magic had even rolled a 270 in the 9-pin no-tap league and a 720 series — both without handicap — this season.
“Sometimes he has bowled as many as four times a week, not counting nights he subbed,” Richard said. Before his passing, Magic had cut his league participation down to Tuesday mornings in the seniors' division and Thursdays.
Magic was found unresponsive Tuesday afternoon after he missed his league earlier that morning. He was 65 years old. There will be a celebration of life at 9:30 a.m. Jan. 15 at Hilltop Lanes.
“This was his home,” Richard said.
Magic was quiet-ish; that much is certain. He greeted everyone who entered the alley, sometimes with a hug and other times a fist bump. Yet, that was the extent to which most knew the man, who was not quite a myth but definitely a legend in his own right.
Few knew of his love for Odessa Permian football, that he was diagnosed as bipolar or that he had “20-something” 300 games in 9-pin no-tap. Richard said he would “put him up against anyone in 9-pin.”
Even fewer knew that Magic had no immediate family anywhere closer than an aunt in Seagraves, Texas, which is somewhere between Lubbock and New Mexico, or that he would often sneak trinkets and small toys to children who frequented the alley (and before their parents noticed).
It seemed, from the outside and someone who considered him a friend, that Magic wanted nothing more than pass along a little happiness to anyone he encountered. It was also apparent that his family was comprised of bowlers, regardless of bloodline or creed.
“If you ever sat and talked with him, you were his friend for life,” Richard added, and I agree, completely.
For over four decades, he hugged, high-fived and danced his way into the hearts of Hilltop Lanes. And we are better for it.
Thank you, Magic. Good luck and high scoring.
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith