Lakers Reunite for Magic
Magic Johnson has always attracted a crowd.
And at Monday afternoon's press conference at Staples Center in commemoration of his Nov. 7, 1991, announcement that he'd contracted the HIV virus, things were no different.
No fewer than seven former Lakers head coaches (including himself) were present. The respectively long legs of a pack of former teammates from the Showtime era stuck up from the rows of seats. His family members, friends, business partners and media members filled out the rest of the crowd.
After thanking several of his teammates, his coach Pat Riley, "father figure" and Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss in extended fashion, Johnson was joined on stage for a photograph so full of championship rings one wouldn't turn down a calculator to add them up.
On his left flank: Mitch Kupchak, Riley, Jerry West, Mike Dunleavy and Michael Cooper. And his right: trainer Gary Vitti, A.C. Green, Dr. Buss, Mychal Thompson, Bill Sharman and James Worthy. Among others in the crowd, but not pictured, were Kurt Rambis and Phil Jackson.
As players alone, that's 33 rings, led by the five of both Magic and Cooper.
There were several more rings from the coaching and management side. Of the seven coaches -- Sharman (1971-76); West (1976-79); Riley (82-90); Dunleavy (90-92); Johnson (1994); Rambis (1999); Jackson (1999-2004, 2005-11) -- Riley and Jackson alone accounted for 10 championships with the Lakers.
While Jackson coached against Magic, defeating the Lakers in the 1991 Finals with Chicago, Riley and Johnson have remained extremely close to this day.
It was Riley who rose to speak on behalf of the Magic Johnson Foundation, thanking the 40 individuals or families that donated $25,000 apiece to total a $1 million gift to further the fight against HIV/AIDS. Then Worthy, the recipient of so many of Johnson's assists on the basketball floor, offered his take on how Magic has dealt with his affliction.
"Magic did a lot to enroll people, because he had a couple of ways to handle it and he handled it perfectly, by being the face and being the educator, letting people know that you can live with (HIV), you can have a productive life," said Big Game James. "As we watched him, month after month and now year after year until today, we only saw the same Magic that we've always seen. He didn't blink. It was the way he approaches life. You are what you think."
Dr. Buss had to agree, when asked if he's noticed any change in Magic.
"From the inside, nothing," he concluded, with a grin. "Outside ... he's gained some weight."
Magic, looking healthy as ever, put his hands around a few former Lakers and shared some laughs, something perhaps no one but he would have thought possible 20 years ago.