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EXCERPT | Nov. 19,1979
NBA fans had neverseen the likes of this rookie
Less than a monthinto his rookie season, No. 1 draft pick Magic Johnson had transformed theLakers. Bruce Newman reported from Los Angeles.
A few yearsago—even last season—it wouldn't have been unusual to see a fan taking a snoozeat courtside during a Los Angeles Lakers game in The Forum, where the chillyreserve of the crowds usually runs about 10° below body temperature. Ah, butthat is the past. Things are warming up now, and by last week the long nightsof ennui and frustration were but a grim and distant memory at theonce-again-Fabulous Forum, where the Lakers were clearly enjoying life in thefast-break lane. The new-look Lakers had replaced the no-look, no-luck,old-look Lakers, and nowhere was the change more brightly apparent than in thebeaming kisser of Earvin (Magic) Johnson Jr.
Johnson was nevermore typically Magic than in last Friday's 126--122 overtime victory overDenver. He scored 31 points, passed for eight assists and grabbed six rebounds.More than that, he and Norm Nixon, L.A.'s other young guard, cranked up thefast-break game in the second half. "When we started running, my confidencestarted to rise," said Magic. "I knew it was time to deal on somepeople. When we're rolling and the break is going, I guess it looks like I amperforming magic out there. Some nights I think I can do anything." Hestopped for a moment and his soft brown eyes widened. "You really have tolove the game to play that way, though," he said. "You can't be afraidto let your emotions out in front of 13,000 people."
Johnson, then 20,was named Finals MVP as the Lakers beat the 76ers to win the 1980 title for thefirst of his five NBA championships.
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SI's Ian Thomsenspoke to Isiah Thomas about the new book When the Game Was Ours, in which MagicJohnson attacks Thomas's character and alleges that Thomas, after Johnson's HIVdiagnosis in 1991, raised questions about his sexuality:
When he heard thecriticisms from his former friend, Thomas (left) had had enough. "I'mreally hurt, and I really feel taken advantage of for all these years,"Thomas said. "I'm totally blindsided by this. Every time I've seen Magic,he has been friendly with me. Whenever he came to a Knicks game he, Herb[Williams] and I would go out to dinner in New York. I just didn't know he feltthis way."
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ASCENDANT Johnson averaged 18.0 points, 7.3 assists and 7.7 rebounds in 1979--80, though he was edged by the Celtics' Larry Bird in the Rookie of the Year voting.
HY PESKIN (PELLEGRINI)
JERRY COOKE (SALAZAR)
JOHN IACONO (CARTER)
JOHN BIEVER (THOMAS)
JOHN W. MCDONOUGH (CURRY)
CHUCK SOLOMON (SABATHIA)
PAUL CHILDS/ACTION IMAGES/ZUMAPRESS.COM (BRADY)
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DAVID BERGMAN (ZORN)