Although it's true that comments were made -- mainly by Karl Malone -- during Magic Johnson's previous comeback attempt, there was one incident that probably was the major reason he walked away. It occurred during a preseason game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Cleveland Cavaliers in Chapel Hill, N.C., in October 1992.
Johnson, who has the virus that causes AIDS, was cut during that game, and the Cavaliers scattered.
"I didn't know what the risks were," Cleveland center Michael Cage said. "I knew blood was one of the ways to get the virus. When he got cut, all of us freaked out."
Said Cage's teammate Terrell Brandon: "We reacted, and I think he saw that. It made the guys a little nervous."
So give the league credit for creating an atmosphere that, in less than four years, has enabled Johnson to return to the game he loves. The league has set up AIDS seminars to make players more aware of how the virus is transmitted.
"We didn't know what was going on," Brandon said. "We were naive [about] how you contract it. You can't get it by rubbing against someone."
New Jersey Nets forward Jayson Williams is as educated about AIDS as anyone in the league. In 1980 his sister, Linda Diaz, 24, died of AIDS. In 1989 it killed another sister, 27-year-old Laura Diaz.
"I treated them as regular people," Williams said of his sisters. "I ate after them, drank after them, I played with them, I went on trips with them."
How does the addition of Johnson affect the Western Conference? Based on Johnson's near triple-double performance in his debut -- and an apparent help-thy-fellow-player atmosphere that led the Lakers to an NBA season-high 44 assists in his debut -- the Lakers could be a title contender in a conference that is not nearly as strong as it was in recent years.
Every year at this time you're going to find certain players unhappy with the selection of the All-Star team, and that was the case Tuesday when the reserves for both teams were announced.
Players who could have made it but didn't: In the East, Dino Radja, Dennis Rodman, Larry Johnson and Glenn Robinson, and in the West, Rod Strickland and Clifford Robinson. Radja and Johnson are having statistically better seasons than Washington Bullets forward Juwan Howard, who was named as a reserve.
"There's nothing I can do," said a disappointed Radja, who went on to make an interesting analogy. "When you're in a car, you can do something about it, but when you're in a plane someone else is flying it. You have no control about it. I did my part. I came to the airport."
Rodman, one of the league's best defensive forwards and clearly the best rebounder, has a home in San Antonio, and was hoping to spend time there as an All-Star. He was third in fan balloting.
"This is bull," he said. "Do the NBA and the coaches hate me that much that they don't want to see me do well?"
Jerry Krause, the Bulls' operations chief, was livid.
"I think it's an injustice, one of the worst things I've ever seen done to a player of All-Star caliber," Krause said. "Yes, I'm angry. Except for injury, which he can't control, Dennis has been having great season. He's one of the best power forwards in the business. He leads the league in rebounding. He deserves the honor."
Out West, Strickland had a better half-season than Jason Kidd. But Kidd, who did have a strong January, was the fans' choice.
Around the league
The Bulls enter tonight's game against the Lakers with a 17-game winning streak and are coming off the first perfect month in team history (14-0 in January). . . . The Minnesota Timberwolves had a players-only practice Wednesday, after a four-game losing streak. "I've heard of players-only meetings, but I've got to admit I've never had a players-only practice," veteran guard Terry Porter said. New coach Flip Saunders is 5-15, a game worse than the 6-14 record that got Bill Blair fired.
Quote of the week
New Jersey's Williams, when told, after grabbing a career-high 25 rebounds, that coach Butch Beard might start him: "I've been rebounding all year like this, so what's the big thing? If it took him this long to figure it out, I'd hate to sit down and do a crossword puzzle with him."