Former Magic GM John Gabriel battling Parkinson's

Gabriel: "I feel good about things"

John Gabriel was reading a magazine article when he noticed his ring finger quivering again.

The former general manager of the Magic can look back now with more whimsy than fear, recalling the moment when his life changed forever.

"Of all things," Gabriel said, "I was sitting on the couch at home reading a Michael J. Fox article."

A short time later, Gabriel would share a bond with the actor. He would be diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in December 2010.

And thus began Gabe's battle with the incurable degenerative neurologic disease, and we're happy to report that he has fought it to a draw with medicine, physical therapy and exercise.

He said his last checkup, monitoring his motor functions, was his best.

This is the first time that Gabriel has publicly disclosed he has Parkinson's. Only his family, closest friends and the New York Knicks knew of his condition.

"The whole thing has been a very teachable moment and continues to be," said Gabriel, director of scouting for the Knicks. "Initially, I wanted to take care of myself, emotionally and physically, and get my feet on the ground.

"And also I wanted to find out if I could continue to be capable of doing my job and performing it well. I found out that I could. I feel good about things."

Gabriel was on the phone en route to doing his job, traveling from his Winter Park home Friday to Miami for the Knicks' playoffs series against the Heat.

He said he wants to thank the Knicks for their "tremendous" support from "top to bottom."

He asked that the Knicks "treat me the same" and continue his usual workload.

Named the NBA's Executive of the Year in 2000 for his masterful rebuilding of the Magic, Gabriel resigned four years later, one of the casualties of the ill-fated Grant Hill era. It remains a mystery why Gabe never got another shot.

After 30 years in the league in various roles, he now simply says, "It feels great to work, period."

Gabriel has been under the care of Dr. Irene Malaty of the Center for Movement Disorders and Neurorestoration at the University of Florida/Shands Hospital in Gainesville.

Malaty said that the disease progresses slowly with age and can be countered with heightened treatment.

"John is doing fantastic," she said.

If you know Gabe, he's big-brother friendly, classy and intensely private. He keeps information so close to his vest that I always thought he missed his calling when he was Magic GM. He should have worked for the CIA.

Extracting anything from him as a reporter is often futile and frustrating. Gabe deftly handled my cut-to-the-chase style for years by leaving me with more to chase, annoyingly charming throughout our conversations.

Friday, though, he was finally ready to share his story, hoping he can help other people affected by Parkinson's.

"This isn't about John Gabriel. It's about a guy that has Parkinson's disease who is going to live a completely normal life, including in my occupation. Don't want anyone to feel sorry for me. I don't feel that way at all," he said.

"I just hope in some small way that I can be an example to others and eventually do more with what I have with those that are stricken with Parkinson's."

Draft talk

The Magic have the 19th pick in the June draft, their highest selection available since 2006 (J.J. Redick was No. 11).

The Magic's needs are small forward and point guard (although you never know how the roster will look if Dwight Howard demands to be traded).

But as it stands now, here are some of the players who might be available to them:

Point guards: Not a great class. Damian Lillard (Weber State) and Kendall Marshall (North Carolina) likely won't drop to the Magic, leaving combo guards Dion Waiters (Syracuse) and Troy Wroten (Washington). Marquis Teague (Kentucky) should be there, but he's erratic.

Small forwards: Jeff Taylor (Vanderbilt), Terrence Jones (Kentucky) and Royce White (Iowa State) could be available at a position headed by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist (Kentucky) and Harrison Barnes (North Carolina). Quincy Miller (Baylor) and Maurice Harkless (St. John's) are other prospects.

Hip-hop Francis

Last time we checked on former Magic PG Steve Francis, he was being released by the Beijing Ducks in China.

(Quick story: Francis' China debut was typically bizarre. He checked in with an ice pack still taped to his right ankle and played for 17 seconds. Which reminds me of a Francis line when once asked about a Magic losing stretch: "We've been hearing ... we're the worst team since sliced bread."

Francis is now keeping busy producing and recording rap under the hip-hop label Mazerati Music.

His new music video is called "Finer Things," complete with Stevie Franchise rapping about bling and champagne and private jets in the company of a young lady. Worst thing since sliced bread.

This 'n' That

Coach of the Year? How about Paul Silas for steering the Charlotte Bobcats to seven wins, the worst winning percentage in NBA history? He at least gave the Mildcats hope (more than owner Michael Jordan can say) especially if they land Anthony Davis in the lottery. ... Best news: Metta World Peace says he won't use Twitter again until after July. One of his last tweets: "I lost almost 10 million dollars with suspensions. … Not happy about that." Will Lakers give World Peace amnesty?... I at least hope that Dwight Howard is watching the Magic on television. Saturday's game (ESPN) aired in L.A. at 4 p.m. If he instead watched the "World's Strongest Man Competition" (ESPN 2), "Punk'd" (CMT) or "My Cat From Hell" (Animal Planet), I'd say the Magic are in trouble this summer.

bschmitz@tribune.com
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