In a surprise November 7, 1991 announcement, Lakers great Magic Johnson publicly announced his positive test for HIV and his intentions to retire. At the age of thirty-one, Magic ended his career with several quality seasons left in him, but what if he had opted to remain in the league? THE SPORTS DISPENCER analyzes what could have been in this week’s edition of What If.
After Magic’s exit, the Lakers suffered a severe decline. In 1990-91, Johnson’s final season, Los Angeles went 58-24, finished third in the West, and earned an NBA Finals birth, but after Magic’s surprise announcement, the Lakers fell to 43-39, finished eighth in the West, and met a quick first-round playoff exit. Los Angeles struggled to make the playoffs en route to their worst season since 1975.
Th Lakers sorely missed Magic on the court. His 19.4 points, 12.5 assists, and 7.0 rebounds were crucial to the team’s 1990-91 success, and without him, Los Angeles failed to produce offensively. Had Johnson continued, his mere presence would have revitalized the lineup and kept L.A. a contender for years to come.
Acceptance of HIV
Since his retirement, Magic has become an HIV/AIDS advocate. The Magic Johnson Foundation has “worked to develop programs and support community-based organizations that address the educational, health and social needs of ethnically diverse, urban communities.” While spreading awareness, Johnson has increased societal acceptance of those afflicted with the disease, but had Magic been able to continue in the NBA, he would have further shown the capabilities of those inflicted with HIV/AIDS.
Birth of a Rivalry
By the time of Johnson’s sudden announcement, the Magic-Bird era had come to a close, and with a 1991 NBA Finals victory over L.A., Michael Jordan established Chicago as the league’s best. The three soon united as part of the “Dream Team” for the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. A rising star, Jordan had largely viewed the tournament as the final hoorah for the two NBA greats, and with their exits, the league was his.
Jordan went on to win six titles in the decade, cementing his status as the NBA’s all-time greatest. Had Magic remained in the league, however, that may have not been the case. In his final season, Johnson proved his ability to contend. With a few slight tweaks, Magic’s Lakers would find themselves poised to take on Jordan’s burgeoning Bulls, creating a rivalry for the ages.
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