What Magic needs and what his Lakers most need is him back in uniform again

January 22, 1993|By Michael Ventre | Michael Ventre,Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES -- Magic Johnson's agent says there's zero chance of his client coming back to play basketball in the NBA.

"He is absolutely, positively not coming back to play," Lon Rosen said.

Hmmm. Why not? "In a perfect world, he would like to return . . .," Rosen explained, the suggestion being that we aren't living in one of those.

But would Magic like to return to the Lakers? "Well, sure, he'd like to come back . . ."

But there's absolutely no way? "None," Rosen added, with a strong sense of finality in his voice.

Now, it should be noted that Lon Rosen is a fine, upstanding young man who is as loyal to Magic as Magic's parents or Magic's wife. He wants what's best for Magic. Right now, he feels what's best is to keep the uniform off and keep the businessman's suit on.

Rosen and Magic are in hot pursuit of an NBA team. Magic has always wanted to go from player to owner, just not this quickly.

But if Rosen wants what's best for Magic, he should urge Magic Johnson to come out of retirement and resume his playing career with the Lakers.

Because that's what Magic wants more than anything.

The reason is simple: He didn't go out right. He didn't conclude his playing career like a superstar should.

Not only can Magic still play, he also can still dominate. He can still lift his teammates to a higher level.

He can still win a championship.

You know it's eating at him. You know he sits at home and second-guesses himself endlessly. You know he watches Lakers games and regrets his impulsive decision in November to retire for the second time.

Magic was not available for comment yesterday. He even skipped the Forum Wednesday night for the Lakers-Sonics game and instead visited a place where hope is still alive: the inauguration.

But recently he indicated to the Daily News' Jesse Barkin just how much he wants to come back.

The subject was why he didn't pick up a basketball for two months after his retirement announcement. "I can tell you truthfully, if I had been playing [pickup basketball], I would have been back," he said. "There's no way. That's why I stayed away."

So the desire is there.

Is the need there as well?

You be the judge. This Lakers team is one of the sorriest assemblages in many moons. While its record is respectable, its future isn't. The odd combination of declining stars (James Worthy, Sam Perkins, Byron Scott, James Edwards), undeveloped youngsters (Elden Campbell, Anthony Peeler, Duane Cooper) and a head-case center (Vlade Divac) makes for an extremely grim forecast.

On top of that, you know there isn't a deal out there that will turn the club around. Assuming every NBA general manager is in his right mind, who is going to give up a franchise player for what the Lakers could offer? The days of Red Auerbach swindling the Seattle SuperSonics out of their No. 1 pick for Gerald Henderson are over, folks. Nobody is going to surrender a lottery pick for Scott and A.C. Green.

While it's admirable that general manager Jerry West is working the phone lines like a telemarketer in the hopes of bagging a prize, what he should do is put his pride aside and call Magic and ask him to end his retirement.

I know West is still seething because Magic's second retiremencaused him to lose a shot at Rod Strickland, but that's ancient history. The quickest route to the NBA final for West is to dial (800) MAGIC-S.O.S.

What about the little matter of why Magic quit in the first placethe outcry from some NBA Chicken Littles who drove Magic out of the league he helped to build with their misguided predictions of doom?

The heck with them. You can't let fear and ignorance stand iyour way of doing what's right. Magic should never have knuckled under in the first place.

Sure, all NBA players had concerns about the risks of contracting HIV on the basketball court. You'd have to be brain dead not to. But the majority of them did enough research to understand that the risk is infinitesimal, and they decided taking that risk was no big deal. The few who objected happened to be quoted nationwide.

Magic should return. It's the right thing.

So what if it looks ridiculous? Who cares how it looks? Could returning to action after two retirement announcements look any more ridiculous than the Lakers look right now without him?

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