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Magic Johnson said he had tested positive for the AIDS virus and retired from pro basketball yesterday, shocking the sports world and leaving it without one of its true superstars.
In 12 sparkling seasons, Johnson showed the world a new way to play basketball and helped turn the pro game into the biggest sports success story of the 1980s.
Both he and his doctors stressed that he did not have AIDS, a disease of the immune system for which there is no known cure. Both also said that, while Johnson's playing days were over, he was far from through.
"I plan on going on living for a long time and I guess now I can enjoy some of the other sides of living," Johnson said at a news conference.
In becoming one of that select group of athletes known everywhere by just one name--"Magic"--Johnson led the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA titles and helped lift the league to unprecedented success.
The 32-year-old became one of sport's most recognizable figures for his smile and enthusiasm. The smile was still there yesterday, just faintly dimmed, and he said he would become a spokesman for AIDS groups, hoping to promote safe sex among youngsters.
"This is one of those things you think can't happen to you, but it can," Johnson said. "Sometimes you're a little naive about it and think it can never happen to you. You think it can happen to only other people. But it has happened, and my life will go on."
There was no immediate word how Johnson might have caught the virus, but at his news conference he stressed the issue of safe sex.
Lakers team physician Dr. Michael Mellman stressed Johnson's leaving basketball was not a reflection on his immediate physical condition.
Magic Urged to Retire
"What we witness today is a courageous act by a very special man," Mellman said. "Earvin Johnson has been infected with the AIDS virus. He is not ill in any way."
Mellman said the stress exerted on the body by professional basketball would not be good for Johnson's condition.
"The medical judgement is for Earvin to discontinue that. That is not normal activity," he said.
If Johnson remained composed as he announced the shocking news, others could not hide their emotions.
Hundreds of people ventured to the Forum in Inglewood, the Lakers' home court and the site of Johnson's news conference which was televised nationally. People were crying in the streets of Los Angeles, and there were many tears in many other cities.
Pat Riley coached Johnson for four of the five NBA championships he won with the Lakers. He wants the tears to end.
"His spirit is strong. He is alive, but not very well right now. We do not want to eulogize him," said Riley, now the coach of the New York Knicks. "We want to give him all the support and love we can. I'm sure all the people around him and love him feel worse than he does."
Johnson said he had learned Wednesday that he had tested positive for the human imuno-difficiency virus, or HIV. Mellman said the tests were taken as part of a routine life-insurance examination.
Johnson missed the first three games of the season, complaining of weakness and dehydration. He had been cleared to resume practice this week.
The three-time MVP was expected to begin playing again within a week.
"I plan to go on, living on. I plan to be with the Lakers and the league," he said.
Magic and The Bird
The league owes Johnson a lot. He, along with Larry Bird, helped turn it from a struggling operation in the late 1970s into a worldwide enternatinment, marketing and sports success.
"No one has contributed more to the success of the NBA than Earvin 'Magic' Johnson, and I know his fans around the world, myself included, will miss the thrill of watching him compete," NBA commissioner David Stern said. "We expect Earvin to continue to play an important role in the NBA, and the entire NBA family pledges its full support to him in his fight against this disease."
The average salary in the NBA was $171,000 in 1980, his second year in the league. It was more than $1 million going into this season.
At 6-foot-9, Johnson revolutionized the point-guard position after leading Michigan State to the NCAA championship as a sophomore in 1979.
He leaves the game with a league-record 9,921 assists, having broken Oscar Robertson's career standard last season.
Magic's Magical History
Johnson was the first selection in the 1979 NBA draft and he immediately established himself as one of the league's best players, leading the Lakers to the league championship the following spring and was selected as the MVP of the Finals, the first rookie to receive such an honor.
The Lakers reached the NBA Finals nine times in Johnson's 12 seasons, most recently last June, when they were beaten by the Chicago Bulls in five games.
Johnson earned All-NBA status for the ninth time and was second behind Chicago's Michael Jordan in the MVP voting last season.
The Lakers won their last championship in 1988, when they became the first NBA team to win consecutive titles since the Boston Celtics in 1969.
In his 12 NBA seasons, Johnson averaged 19.7 points, 7.3 rebounds and 11.4 assists. He was chosen in September to play for the United States in the 1992 Olympics, the first Games in which pro basketball players will be eligible.
Johnson, from Lansing, Mich., was married in his home state on Sept. 14 to longtime girlfriend Cookie Kelly. He has a son, Andre, who lives in Lansing.
Johnson didn't waste time assuming his role as a spokesman for awareness of AIDS.
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