Turn Back The Clock: A Touch of Magic Arrives To CSUDH

By Jeremy Gonzalez
Assistant Sports Editor

Editor’s note: In honor of the 50th year of Toro Athletics, the Bulletin will commemorate the greatest achievements, moments, and athletes in sports history at CSUDH through this column, where we will recount one notable sports achievement, athlete, or moment every issue.

Professional basketball was king of Los Angeles in the 1980s, and the head that wore the crown belonged to Earvin “Magic” Johnson the central figure in the dynasty of the “Showtime” Lakers who, over a span of 12 years, made nine NBA finals, winning five

The roster changed over the years, and included such legendary names as Kareem Abdul Jabbar and James Worthy, but the one constant was Magic. He was the floor general, the ringleader, the conductor, whatever title you want. But he was also the Lakers’ heart and soul and the excitement that coursed through Los Angeles was sparked in large part by Magic’s oversized personality and incredible skill.

Some 12 miles south of the Lakers home in Inglewood, on our campus, the basketball buzz wasn’t quite the same. Following the 1979-80 NBA season, Magic’s first and also the Lakers first title of the decade, the Toros men’s basketball team was entering only its fifth season of competitive basketball, and its first season in the California Collegiate Athletic Association. But the team shocked anyone paying attention, going 20-5 and winning the conference championship. Had the Lakers repeated as champs in the 1981 postseason, the city of Los Angeles would have had two championship basketball teams at the same time.

Which is what happened in the spring of 1987. The Toros, who had not finished above second place since their championship season, went 14-2 at home en route to winning 22 victories and their second CCAA title. Two months later, the Lakers won their fourth NBA title, with Magic winning the regular season and Finals MVP awards. But the Toros had their own magic maker, William Alexander, who set school records in points, scoring average 19.9 per game, and field goals, earning CCAA player of the year honors.

Now, up to this point, it was sheer coincidence that the Toros’ two championships seasons overlapped with Laker titles. But in December 1988, the coincidence felt more substantial. That was the day that Magic visited the CSUDH campus and talked to the men’s basketball team for about 10 minutes before speaking a capacity crowd in the University Theater.

We know this happened because the CSUDH library’s archives, which can be accessed online, contain several dated photographs of Magic on campus, and Robert Barksdale, who was on the team that season, told us he recalled  Magic speaking about 10 minutes, and urging the students to not give up their dreams.

But other than that, we don’t know why Magic even came to campus, or what he spoke about in the theater. Barksdale was the only person we could find who was both on campus 31 years ago and remembered any details. Even Google let us down. So, if you’re reading this and actually know whether Magic was invited by the university as part of a special event, or he asked to speak in order to inspire and motivate students, or he just took the wrong exit off the 110 and wound up here, please let us know.

Maybe Magic’s visit to CSUDH wasn’t as significant an accomplishment, or moment, as our men’s and women’s soccer teams winning championships, or Caramelita Jetter winning Olympic medals. But it was pretty cool don’t you think?

But it does raise a question: Why did CSUDH students 31 years ago fill the University Theatre to hear a professional athlete speak, but our current student body can’t even fill a tenth of the Torodome to support our basketball teams, even in a season like their recently concluded one, in which they both made the playoffs?