One of Magic Johnson's physicians dismissed speculation yesterday that the Los Angeles Lakers guard would return to action for the NBA playoffs this season.
David Ho, director of New York University's Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center, said an attempt to play professionally, even for a limited time, would be detrimental to Johnson's health.
Ho, who is advising Johnson on long-term care for an HIV infection, said Johnson could participate in the NBA All-Star Game, scheduled for Feb. 9, but not the playoffs.
Johnson, who announced his retirement from basketball Nov. 7 but has attended Lakers games since, has remained physically active by shooting baskets and running.
"In his heart, he wants to play -- period," Ho said. "But I think he also knows that he has to take good care of himself.
"The physical and emotional stress [of the playoffs] would take its toll on the immune system, which is something we're trying to preserve as much as possible."
Johnson told reporters Sunday that he understands the situation.
"If I played 40 minutes a game, with my will to win . . . it's going to affect me," he said. "I'd rather be on this Earth for a long time."
Johnson also said Sunday that he will play at next summer's Olympics in Barcelona, Spain. Professionals will be allowed to compete in Olympic basketball competition for the first time.
Ho said doctors have yet to decide what effects an Olympic appearance would have on Johnson's health because it is difficult to predict how he will feel this summer.
Johnson is taking the antiviral drug AZT, which is said to slow the progress of the disease in those with early symptoms. The highly toxic drug can cause serious side effects, but Ho said Johnson is not suffering from any complications.
If Johnson is feeling OK, Olympic competition will not be a problem as long as Johnson is used in a limited capacity, Ho said. With many NBA stars expected to compete for the United States, Johnson is not needed to play every game.
Johnson could have a more influential role off the court at Barcelona, Ho said.
"He knows a lot more about these issues than most people would believe," Ho said. "He's been educated a great deal about this disease, this whole epidemic. I think he has handled everything extremely well."