Magic a lock for Hall, but when is up in air Induction date on hold after Johnson's return


Magic Johnson will be elected to the basketball Hall of Fame.



His enshrinement remains a first-ballot certainty. But now the date of the induction, having already been altered once, is up in the air now that Johnson has come out of retirement, again.

His last regular season was 1990-91, so he should have been part of the class of '97 in Springfield, Mass., since players must skip five elections before they go on the ballot.

Then he played in the 1991-92 All-Star Game and in the 1992 Olympics. He came back before the 1992-93 season but retired again before the regular season began.

What's a Hall of Fame to do?

Last year, the trustees met and decided on . . . 1998?

The Hall went with sentiment over the bylaws, wanting Johnson and Larry Bird to be enshrined together.

Since Bird retired after 1991-92, making him eligible for '98, Johnson was given credit for the All-Star Game and Dream Team appearance in Barcelona and kept in the same class.

"There have been so many ties with Larry and Magic, through college and the pros," Joe O'Brien, president of the Hall of Fame, said yesterday.

"They played each other in the NCAA final, were rookies the same year and then had so many memorable moments in the NBA. The links are so dramatic that we thought it would have been ideal to have them enter the Hall at the same time."

But now the comeback, officially, would make Johnson part of the class of 2002, barring a return next season.

The matter will almost certainly come up when Hall trustees meet later this year, once again faced with the option to stay with the five-year rule or again bend its constitution to keep Magic and Bird together forever.

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