As the significant All-Star, Johnson can make it all right for the others

PRO BASKETBALL NOTES

February 02, 1992|By Mark Heisler | Mark Heisler,Los Angeles Times

Here's a fact: Magic Johnson will play in the All-Star Game.

But should he?

You're darned right, he should.

Has everyone forgotten Ryan White, the Indiana schoolboy with AIDS, whose mere presence in school terrified other kids' parents into open protest?

Medical experts duly assured them that their children were not in jeopardy from sharing a water fountain with him. White became a martyr . . . and a few years after his death, everyone is worrying what happens if Johnson sweats on them.

Of course, people will worry.

They just shouldn't let fear run them and the world around them.

Not one responsible medical expert has yet suggested a significant risk in communicating the HIV infection through basketball. They're not saying there is a "less than 1 percent" chance, as Cleveland's Mark Price said last week, but "an infinitesimal chance," according to an NBA medical consultant.

There is a real issue here, not just whether Johnson, who has already played in 10 of these exhibitions, makes it 11.

There are a lot of people carrying HIV who don't dare to let others know -- for fear the others will shrink from them.

Those people will be heartened by the sight of Johnson playing in the company of his fellows.

It will be the most significant, highest-rated All-Star Game, the one they'll remember when they forget so-and-so's great dunk or which young capitalist pumped up his shoes for an endorsement contract.

For Johnson's buddies, Michael Jordan and the rest, it's a chance to do their best deed of the year. There is no doubt most will embrace him figuratively, or literally as Dominique Wilkins did 10 days after the Nov. 7 announcement.

The first thing Wilkins said, after being named to the East team but before tearing his Achilles' tendon, was that it would be an honor to play in Magic's last game.

"To me, he is the greatest of us all," Wilkins said.

By embracing their friend, they tell all the stricken it's all right. For that, we bless them.

*

Here's another fact: Johnson hopes to show in this game and the Olympics that he can return to the NBA.

That's great -- as long as he has medical clearance.

Not only by league and Olympic doctors, but his own.

It's not enough if doctors advise against playing, for Johnson to answer that he knows himself. Or as he said last week: "They're not living in my body."

If people are telling him his wisest choice is to go on with his life, perhaps they don't know enough about the marathon nature of the NBA lifestyle, where physical activity is only the beginning, compounded as it is by constant, grinding travel and emotional strain.

"I think he misses basketball," said Byron Scott, Johnson's best friend on the Los Angeles Lakers, urging him to stay retired.

"Earvin still had three, four good years left in him. Any time any player in any league retires prematurely, it messes with his mind. I think he's kinda torn because he knows he can still play in this league and still dominate."

No one needs Johnson to return at any peril to himself, not the organization, the players or the fans.

He always knew he was going to hang 'em up one day.

;/ If his doctors say go, he should stay gone.

*

Under the gun: Because the top guys rarely stand up to acknowledge their contributions to disaster, someone else must get the credit or lack thereof.

Here are some guys under the gun:

* Philadelphia: 76ers coach Jimmy Lynam.

Having tiptoed to the precipice of trading Charles Barkley and pulled back, volatile 76ers owner Harold Katz needs someone else to blame for this season's sloth. Hint: it won't be the official who traded Brad Daugherty for Roy Hinson (Katz).

The 76ers had a five-game winning streak and a 16-point lead over the Wilkins-less Atlanta Hawks, which then rallied to beat them. Then they lost at home, by 25 points, to the Indianapolis Pacers, a 3-18 road team.

"I'm tired of it," Katz said. " . . . The next thing is for [Lynam] to address the situation and for [the players] to respond. And if they don't, I have to think about what I have to do."

* Dallas: Center James Donaldson.

Really.

This team should have been dismantled at least a year ago and maybe two, but attendance was still robust and management couldn't slay a cash cow.

Now, the outward symbol of all that has gone wrong is Donaldson, the game but gawky 7-foot 2-inch center. Aggrieved at being benched, he got into a fight at practice with Rolando Blackman and hit peacemaker Derek Harper in the eye. Harper called him "a 7-foot punk." Practice fights aren't uncommon, but Donaldson was suspended for a game, costing him $10,770.

* Seattle: K.C. Jones (Ret.)

SuperSonics management keeps falling in love with its players, imagining them accepting their world championship rings. They were .500, they are .500, they will be .500 in the future unless they import or develop some maturity.

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.