INGLEWOOD, Calif. -- It wasn't until after the speeches, after the tears, after the cracking voices and after the ovations that Magic Johnson sat and related just how difficult his retirement day had been.
"My heart just started crying," Johnson said softly, recalling his entrance into the Forum at halftime of the Los Angeles Lakers-Boston Celtics game for the retirement of his No. 32. "You walked that way so many times, to now walk out and say goodbye, it was difficult. You never know how to say goodbye. How do you do that?"
Of course, with the persistent talk that he will play again for Los Angeles, "so long" may have been a more accurate message to take from the Forum than "goodbye." Lakers coach Mike Dunleavy said the memory he would take from yesterday was "when they put that banner up with Velcro."
But on this emotionally charged day, the focus was on Johnson, who announced in November that he had the virus that causes AIDS and would have to retire.
"Life is about overcoming the odds, for many are called, but very few are chosen," NBA Players Association head Charles Grantham told the Forum sellout crowd of 17,505. "Earvin Johnson, to you, Martin Luther King Jr. said, 'The true measure of a man is not how he behaves in moments of comfort and convenience, but how he stands at times of controversy and challenge.' Your courage and your compassion for others has touched us all."
Johnson, dressed in a light brown suit for the occasion, most vividly betrayed his feelings during remarks by former teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and while addressing comments to the current Lakers.
"We sweated together, we fought together, we lost together and we won together," Johnson said, his voice breaking. "People ask me all the time, what do I miss most about not playing? It's not the playing part I miss the most, it's being one of the boys.
"You never know how great it is to be one of 12 guys that you come out and you work hard for eight months and then you try and fight for a common goal and that's being champions."
And Boston's sidelined Larry Bird, who ignored the ache in his back and the wishes of the Celtics to fly in for the ceremony, presented his old rival with a piece of the Boston Garden parquet.