Lakers guarantee Magic a very handsome return One-year extension worth $14.6 million


LOS ANGELES -- What recession?

Two days after Magic Johnson announced he was returning to active duty this season, he signed a one-year contract extension yesterday with the Los Angeles Lakers that will pay him about $14.6 million for the 1994-95 season, regardless of whether he plays.

"This extension is something that [Lakers owner] Dr. [Jerry] Buss said he would do long ago, but Earvin didn't want to announce it until after he made his decision whether or not to play," Lakers general manager Jerry West said. "The extension has nothing to do with Tuesday's announcement [of a comeback]. We were going to do this even if he didn't come back to play."

Johnson, 33, led the Lakers to five NBA championships during the 1980s, but did not play last season after learning he had tested positive for the virus that causes AIDS.

He plans to play 50 to 60 games this season, but beyond that is uncertain.

Johnson will be paid $2.5 million this season, and $2.5 million in 1993-94, which had been the last season of his contract.

The contract extension accomplishes something the Lakers otherwise could not have in compliance with the NBA's salary cap regulations: It makes Johnson the highest-paid player in the NBA based on average annual salary.

Over the next three seasons, whether or not he plays in the second or third years, he will earn an average of $6.53 million a year.

In so doing, he will surpass the average salary of Orlando Magic rookie Shaquille O'Neal ($5.7 million) and New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing ($5.3 million).

Like Johnson, Ewing has a balloon payment built into his contract that increases the average annual salary. But Johnson's $14.6 million balloon, the highest single-season salary in the history of team sports, is the Goodyear blimp next to Ewing's $9.4 million inner tube.

"This is something Jerry Buss wanted to do whether Earvin played or not," said Johnson's agent, Lon Rosen. "Jerry Buss and I talked about it last Nov. 7 [when Johnson announced his retirement]. He said he wanted to do this. The reasons are obvious: It's for what Earvin's done for the Laker organization. [Buss] didn't have to do this.

The $6 million men

Team sports contracts with average annual values of $6 million per season. Figures were obtained by The Associated Press from player and management sources and include all guaranteed income but not income from potential incentive bonuses:

B8Player, Club. .. . . . . . Seasons. ........... Sal.-x

Magic Johnson,Lakers. . .. 94-95. . . . . . . $14.6

Patrick Ewing, Knicks. . .. 95-97.. ... ....... $ 9.4

Ryne Sandberg, Cubs. . . .. 93-96. . .......... $ 7.1

Cal Ripken, Orioles. . .. . 93-97.. . . .. ..... $ 6.5

x-Average annual salary in millions

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