When the National Basketball Association announced that commissioner David Stern was recommending adding Magic Johnson as a 13th man to the Western Conference All-Star team for the game in Orlando Feb. 9, it was expected to gain unanimous approval from his peers who admired the retired Los Angeles Lakers superstar for his leadership on and off the court.
But fear and ignorance over the threat of the AIDS virus that has infected Johnson has players concerned about playing with him or against him in the All-Star Game and the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, another goal of Johnson's.
Two of the skeptics, Sarunas Marciulionis of the Golden State Warriors and Drazen Petrovic of the New Jersey Nets, could be opposing Johnson in the Olympics playing for their native countries -- Marciulionis for Lithuania and Petrovic possibly for Croatia.
Said Marciulionis: "Magic is the biggest name in the world, and everyone wants to see him play. And it is good for people 'D fighting AIDS. On the other hand, if I'm driving to the hoop, and I'm bleeding, you never know what can happen if I make contact with him."
Added Petrovic: "I get a scratch every second or third game. There is lot of physical contact, so you have to be concerned. I've got to be protected."
L But medical experts on AIDS insist that the risk is minimal.
"There is a theoretical risk," said Dr. David Rose, director of the AIDS center at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. "But how often do basketball players in major games have injuries and have their blood mixed? Anything less, and there is no danger to others. Sweat doesn't spread it. Saliva doesn't spread it. And touching doesn't spread it."
Johnson has gained approval by the International Olympic Committee to compete in the Games, claiming there is no rule to prohibit his participation because of his ailment.
Said Portland Trail Blazers star Clyde Drexler: "I think the governing body should make the ruling, not the players or Magic. But because of the seriousness of the situation, it deserves more thought."
Sonic boom: George Karl, who coached Real Madrid in Spain until Sunday, is the front-runner to replace deposed Seattle coach K.C. Jones, who was fired last week after losing home games to Orlando and Charlotte. But it was really the back-biting of his under-achieving players that led to his demise.
Jones, who had guided the Boston Celtics to a championship in 1986, owns the third-best winning percentage (.683) with 522 victories and 252 defeats, ranking behind only Pat Riley and Billy Cunningham.
Oddly, he was also dismissed by the Bullets in 1976 after three straight winning seasons, including a 60-22 mark in 1974-75, a feat that none of his coaching successors in Washington has come close to matching.
Current Bullets coach Wes Unseld played three years for Jones and admired his coaching style. "K.C. treated you like a man," said Unseld. "He expected you to do your job without a lot of screaming and fussing."
That was the very reason some of the ill-fitting Sonics rapped Jones, who was in his second year in Seattle and has approximately $2 million due him on his remaining contract.
Said forward Eddie Johnson: "Part of being a veteran player is helping to push the younger players. But it can't be up to the players alone. K.C. was too laid-back. Disciplinarians wear on players after a few years, but in our situation, there was no discipline."
In his defense, Jones said: "What it boiled down to was a bunch of guys grouching about minutes and not being happy when they did get to play."
No alimony: Brian Shaw, recently swapped by Boston to Miami for fellow point guard Sherman Douglas, holds no grudge against the Celtics. Said Shaw: "It was a bad marriage, so now we're divorced. Really, it was just a matter of time for the break-up to happen."