The 1992 NBA All-Star Game in Orlando became a showcase for a player who did not play a single regular-season game that year. Magic Johnson, who had stunned the world by announcing in November 1991, that he was retiring from the NBA because of having contracted the HIV virus, was nonetheless voted to a starting berth by fans participating in the All-Star balloting, and the league okayed his participation.
The entire weekend became a moving tribute to one of the game's most beloved players. As he trotted onto the court during the pregame introductions, he was engulfed by the sounds of a standing ovation that filled the Orlando Arena. Beaming his familiar smile, Johnson waved to the crowd in acknowledgment, but the cheering would not stop.
Suddenly, long-time friend and NBA rival Isiah Thomas, an East All-Star, broke ranks and walked across the court to embrace Johnson. One by one, others joined in.
"Words mean a lot," Johnson said later, "but it's feelings that count most. Ours is a game of compassion. I'll never forget those hugs and high-fives."
Johnson then went out and used the final 90 seconds of the West's lopsided 153-113 victory to give the fans one more lasting memory, capping a 25-point, 9-assist performance that earned him All-Star MVP honors.
First he threw a perfect bounce pass to teammate Dan Majerle for a layup. Then he waved away any defensive help and forced Thomas and Michael Jordan into missed jumpers on the East's next two possessions. Finally, with the clock running down, he sank a 3-pointer of his own, backpedaling from the basket with his finger in the air as soon as he launched the shot. It was such a perfect moment that players from both sides stopped playing in order to share with Johnson those final precious seconds before the final buzzer.
"It's the first game ever to be called on account of hugs," he said. "This was the perfect end to the story. I'd been trying to write this story all week, and that was like I was at my typewriter and I said, 'Here's my ending. Period.'"