Johnson's show and tell spans a new generation of believers Return wows his son, 3, and older folks, too

February 01, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

LOS ANGELES -- Daddy has a job after all.

Earvin Johnson III had told teachers his father was a has-been, but then he stayed up past bedtime Tuesday to see for himself and yesterday recanted it all at show and tell.

He is 3 years old, impressionable and yesterday for the first time called his father "Magic."

So, a new generation knows now what an old generation was talking about. Magic Johnson can still pass where he is not looking, can still shoot an archaic shot called the hook and can still dribble out a clock.

In his first official game since 1991, he was two rebounds shy of a triple double, one celebrity shy of a full house and three days shy of seeing Michael Jordan.

"Michael and the Bulls," Johnson said, impatient for tomorrow night's reunion at the Great Western Forum. "Woo. Woo. Woo."

For Magic Johnson, the world is resuming where it left off 4 1/2 years ago -- "It's like I was in the service," he said -- and he has no time to lose.

He wants to post up against Shaquille O'Neal -- "It's going to be wild, playing this big, strong guy," he said -- and he wants to dribble up against his clone, Anfernee Hardaway.

He wants to wrestle with Dennis Rodman -- "Because you'll know you've been in a war," he said -- and he wants to compare comebacks with Jordan.

He wants to be an Olympian -- but not as a token.

He wants to be an HIV spokesman -- if for no other reason than to shut up Steve Smith.

He also wants a masseuse. He woke up yesterday with a minor ache in his back, called it "nothing a little massage won't take out" and resumed practice yesterday.

If nothing else, Tuesday night's 128-118 victory over Golden State showed that he is ambidextrous with his hook shot, that his outside shot is rusty and that Jack Nicholson has better things to do.

The game was a sellout (17,505), but Nicholson was the lone ticket-holding celebrity not to attend. Johnson had no beef; his anxieties were elsewhere.

First of all, he was told yesterday that Smith -- the Atlanta Hawks guard who also attended Michigan State -- is the latest player to have qualms about facing an HIV-positive opponent.

"What makes me mad," Johnson said, "is I turn around and hear this after I played against these guys for three months. So I don't want to hear that. If I can play against Michael Jordan all summer, if I can play against Rodman, and he's throwing me around, throwing me out of bounds and I'm throwing him out of bounds, I don't see the problem.

"Nothing has happened. Ever. It's never been documented, so we might want to get off this subject. It's a dead issue. I'm back and I'm back to stay. Everyone's going to have to deal with it. That's it."

Also in Atlanta yesterday, Olympic coach Lenny Wilkens watched tape of Johnson's 19-point, 10-assist, eight-rebound performance and said there might be a spot this July for a 6-foot-9 man who can dribble.

"I don't want to make the team as some goodwill case," Johnson said. And why does he want another gold medal? "Because I love it," he said.

Actually, until Tuesday night, Johnson's son thought Magic was past his prime. Little Earvin Johnson -- who goes by E.J. -- had gone to school as recently as a few weeks ago and said, "My daddy's too old to play basketball." The teachers told Magic Johnson, who then made sure his son had a front-row seat Tuesday.

"When I got home, he was fast asleep," Johnson said. "But this morning, he was like, 'Dad, I saw you. Dad, Dad.' Then I looked in the paper and saw that Cookie and he were pictured in there, and I took it up to him, and he just fell out. He thought that was the greatest thing. So he was really looking forward to going to school today, showing his picture in show and tell."

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