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Magic Johnson Checking Out Requirements for Comeback

January 27, 1996

INGLEWOOD, Calif. (AP) _ Magic vs. Michael? Maybe.

Magic Johnson, who has often hinted since retiring for the second time that he might suit up again for the Los Angeles Lakers, has spoken with both the team and the NBA about coming back.

The New York Post reported Friday that Johnson has ``all but guaranteed″ the Lakers that he will be in uniform next Friday at the Forum when Los Angeles meets the Chicago Bulls and Michael Jordan, who himself returned last season after a whirl at baseball.

Lakers spokesman John Black, while saying that the report is ``nothing that hasn’t been going on since he (Johnson) retired,″ did say talks have been held this time.

``The Lakers have had discussions with Earvin and we have had discussions with the league office on the requirements for him to come back,″ Black, in Philadelphia for the Lakers’ game against the 76ers, said by telephone Friday.

``We would love to have him if he decides to come back. That’s up to Magic. We’re not at that point. It could happen in a day, a week, a month, and it could never happen.″

Prime Sports, a cable sports network that carries Lakers games, reported Jan. 16 that Johnson was planning to rejoin the Lakers and begin playing after the All-Star Game, which is Feb. 11.

Johnson’s agent, Lon Rosen, responded to a comeback rumor earlier this month by saying his client plans to play with his touring team in March.

``This time the rumor didn’t start with me,″ Johnson told Post columnist Peter Vecsey. ``There’s a lot to think about. I’ll let you know.″

Should Johnson, who first retired in 1991 after testing HIV positive, decide to return, he would first have to transfer his small _ approximately 5 percent _ ownership stake in the team to someone else. To do so would require only the approval of NBA commissioner David Stern, who has no opposition to Johnson returning to play.

Jordan, who made his own comeback last March after 17 months of retirement, said Friday night he understands why Johnson would want to return.

``If he’s like me, he realizes what basketball meant to him, appreciates it more after being gone from it,″ he said. ``If he wants to come back, he should.″

``I have no idea how this is going to work out,″ Lakers president Jerry West told the Post. ``Earvin told me before the season he was going to play, then he didn’t. But he’s all pumped up again. He’s 36. It’s now or never.

``It wouldn’t surprise me if he does play. Nor would it surprise me if he doesn’t. Whatever happens, it’s going to happen soon.″

West said he told Johnson ``this is the last opportunity your body is going to have.″

``We’d be very fortunate if he’d come back,″ said coach Del Harris, who took over the Lakers after Johnson’s short coaching stint in 1994. ``He could revolutionize the power forward position. What power forward ever had his skills?″

Johnson, a 6-foot-9 point guard, led the Lakers to five NBA titles in the 1980s and also played on the United States’ 1992 Olympic team that won a gold medal in Barcelona, Spain. After the Olympics, he made a brief comeback with the Lakers during the preseason, but retired again before the 1992-93 regular season.

Johnson is in Arizona for the Super Bowl. Rosen, also in Phoenix, did not immediately return calls from The Associated Press.

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