Johnson takes Lakers by surprise, retires It's 3rd time in '90s he has quit as player

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Only 12 days after saying he was "100 percent" certain he would be back next season, and that several teams would be interested in his services, Magic Johnson retired from the NBA yesterday.

The retirement announcement -- the third this decade from the Lakers great -- came in the form of a release from his agent, Lon Rosen.

"I was satisfied with my return to the NBA, although I would have hoped we would have gone further into the playoffs," Johnson said in the statement.

"But now I am ready to give it up. It's time to move on. I am going out on my terms, something I couldn't say when I aborted a comeback in 1992."

Johnson, who turns 37 in August, had returned this season after missing 4 1/2 years when he learned he had HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. His first retirement came in November 1991, just after his condition was diagnosed, and Rosen emphasized yesterday that the latest retirement was not health-related.

The player who led the Lakers to five NBA championships surprised the team with his announcement.

"From the time he came to this team almost 17 years ago, Earvin Johnson has been a very special part of our lives," Lakers executive vice president of basketball operations Jerry West said.

"While this is a sad day, it's one that we always knew would come, and I would rather look at it remembering all the great moments he brought to this team and our fans. Obviously, we wish him the best in his future endeavors."

Even after retiring, Johnson participated in the 1992 All-Star Game in Orlando, where he was named Most Valuable Player. He also was a member of the 1992 U.S. Olympic gold medal basketball team in Barcelona.

He then decided to make his first comeback. But, shortly into the exhibition season in 1992, he again retired after several players, notably Karl Malone, complained of the dangers of playing against someone infected with HIV.

There were only a few such complaints when Johnson rejoined the Lakers on Jan. 29. The team had started to play well just before then and, with Johnson's return, continued to do so.

The Lakers finished the season on a surge, winning 20 of the 32 games in which Johnson was available. He averaged 14.6 points, 6.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds despite missing time with a calf injury and a three-game suspension for bumping into referee Scott Foster.

However, Los Angeles stumbled in the playoffs, losing in four games to Houston in a best-of-five. Johnson drew much fire for remarks during the series in which he questioned his role, criticized his teammates for their alleged indifference toward losing and suggested that his next contract -- he was to have been a free agent July 1 -- would have to be on a par with those of Michael Jordan and Shaquille O'Neal.

Johnson's statement did not indicate whether he would regain his one-time ownership of the team. He held 5 percent of the Lakers but was forced to divest his holdings because NBA rules prohibit a player from having any ownership in a team.

Pub Date: 5/15/96

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