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Will Magic Johnson’s AIDS Announcement Dampen the Glamour Squad?

November 10, 1991

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ Sex, glamour and grinding cheerleaders are as much a part of the Los Angeles Lakers as fast breaks and slam dunks, but basketball Hollywood-style may change with Magic Johnson’s AIDS announcement.

Before, Johnson needed only answer questions about free-throw percentages, last-minute victories and assist totals. Now, the focus has shifted to indelicate queries about his personal life and sexual habits.

The answers - if they ever surface - may clash with Johnson’s wholesome image.

The Lakers sold themselves with the kind of freewheeling theatrics best epitomized by fan Jack Nicholson’s devilish grin in the crowd and the hip- thrusting Laker Girl cheerleaders.

And the easy sexual aura that surrounds the players, Johnson included, was a part of the appeal.

One-night stands are part of the life for many professional athletes, male and female, as they travel constantly and receive tempting propositions of sex. At home, they are idols with easy access to sexual partners. Some athletes maintain monogamous relationships. A few are even celibate. A lot, though, fool around when they get the chance.

One thing is certain. If the Lakers, now without Johnson’s peerless leadership, stumble and become an anemic, mediocre team, scores of fair- weather fans will retreat. Perpetual sellouts will vanish and genuine followers of the team again will be able to buy tickets.

Johnson’s endorsement deals are coming under review since he announced his retirement Thursday because he is infected with the AIDS virus.

″We have meetings scheduled all day,″ Greg Sherry, a spokesman for Spalding Sports Worldwide, said the day after Johnson’s announcement. ″I really can’t say what we will do.″

Dyan Cannon, Rob Lowe, Michael Ovitz and other celebrities who sit in $500 court side seats typify the city’s love-a-winner attitude. You won’t find those folks slinking across town for losing Los Angeles Clippers basketball games and might have to struggle to spot them at Lakers games if the team slides in the National Basketball Association’s Pacific Division.

Indeed, stars didn’t even know the Los Angeles Kings were a hockey team playing in the same building as the Lakers until Wayne Gretzky showed up three years ago and the Kings started winning.

Johnson had much the same effect on basketball: he brought white-collar support to a blue-collar sport. Almost overnight, the game became a topic of conversation in movie studios, law offices and country clubs.

And it became a spectacle, with Fan magazines publishing seating charts showing where each celebrity viewed the action, both on and around the court.

To watch a Lakers game in person is to witness a nightclub and athletic mix. Before (and often during) game time, a smoky bar in the Forum lobby overflows with elegantly dressed men and women, making it look like a singles joint down by the beach. It was in the bar area that Johnson delivered his shocking news to the media.

Other spectators arrive at games as if they were attending an open house. Many fans wander in long after each game’s opening tip-off, and scurry off to their BMWs and Mercedes halfway through the fourth quarter.

Because the Lakers dominated so many opponents so easily, spectators don’t need to do a lot of cheering.

Aging movie producers flirt with teen-age dates. Others order mixed drinks delivered to their seats. And almost everybody grows silent when the Laker Girls come onto the court. Fans pay more attention to the cheerleaders and their suggestive routines than the game itself.

Former Laker Wilt Chamberlain, who boasted in his recent autobiography that he slept with more than 20,000 women, is suddenly more contrite. And the Lakers won’t be as much fun anymore. Said one fan of Johnson: ″He was the whole team.″

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