That's the pleasant little quandary facing the Turner NBA telecast team, which has been handed a dream meeting tonight (TNT, 10:30) between Johnson's Los Angeles Lakers and the Chicago Bulls and the omnipresent Michael Jordan, which should break all regular-season ratings records.
But Johnson, who made a triumphant comeback Tuesday night against Golden State, is, after all, 36 years old, and 4 1/2 years removed from his last NBA season, not to mention a carrier of the AIDS virus.
Surely, it's folly to expect him to play at the level we all remembered him at, isn't it? That's what Turner analyst Chuck Daly, who coached Johnson and Jordan on the 1992 Olympic team, thinks, especially when the games mount.
"The problem starts [tonight] with a very good defensive team. A 36-year-old body isn't going to hold up after a lot of back-to-backs [games]," said Daly. "As we remember Magic, in his years prior to his retirement, he was subject to injury, especially in his legs. I'm wondering how it's all going to hold up. I'm hopeful that it does. People are going to test him. They're going to isolate Magic, particularly quicker guards. People in this league figure out things. As great a player as he is, they'll challenge him."
On the other side, there's Daly's colleague, Hubie Brown, who called Tuesday's game for TNT. Brown says Johnson's new role along the Los Angeles front line and his 30 additional pounds should augur well for his return.
"When you see him, he's really big. His upper body is massive," said Brown. "He's so strong that he could hold off that kid Joe Smith just by holding his arm out like a paw. Give the guy a chance. If you've been following this league for a while, you had to be amazed to get that (19 points, eight rebounds, 10 assists) from a guy who's not only 36, but has been gone for 4 1/2 years. What he did the other night was kind of eye-popping."
The 8 p.m. Phoenix-Cleveland game will serve as the lead-in to the high drama at the Forum tonight on TNT. Meanwhile, ESPN radio, the new NBA carrier, will air tonight's Lakers-Bulls game and WWLG (1360 AM) will carry the ESPN radio feed after the Bullets-Portland game.
Big man on campuses
ESPN college basketball analyst Larry Conley certainly will earn his paychecks tomorrow, working three games within a 24-hour span.
At the stroke of midnight tonight, Conley will call the Illinois State-Cincinnati game for ESPN, presumably get in a few winks of sleep, then head for Lexington, Ky., to call the Florida-Kentucky game for Jefferson-Pilot at 1 p.m. before capping his night by going across state to work the Memphis-Louisville contest for ESPN at 9:30 p.m. Here's hoping Conley's car has good brakes and his tape player has the ESPN "Jock Jams" album to keep him occupied.
Channel 54 has a day-night Atlantic Coast Conference doubleheader tomorrow with Maryland playing host to Georgia Tech at noon, with a replay on ESPN2 at 4 p.m. and North Carolina traveling to North Carolina State at 9 p.m.
Other local teams, namely UMBC, Morgan State and Coppin State, get their crack at the tube tomorrow. The Retrievers' home game against UNC-Greensboro airs live on Home Team Sports at noon; the Coppin-Morgan tussle will be shown on tape delay at 11 p.m.
The featured women's game pits the U.S. National Team and Texas Tech, as former Red Raider Sheryl Swoopes makes her homecoming tomorrow night at 7:30 on ESPN.
The Eagle has landed?
CBS' season premiere of the PGA Tour features coverage of the final two rounds of the Pebble Beach National Pro-Am (Channel 13, tomorrow and Sunday, 3 p.m.).
During tomorrow's telecast, the network will honor astronaut Alan Shepard on the 25th anniversary of his 6-iron shot on the surface of the moon, as he plays through on the 17th hole.