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Closest Vote in 10 Years Gives Magic MVP

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Magic Johnson picked up his third NBA Most Valuable Player award in the last four years today in the closest voting in 10 years.

Johnson narrowly beat Charles Barkley of the Philadelphia 76ers and Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls. The Los Angeles Lakers star had 636 points on 27 first-place votes from a nationwide panel of 92 media members.

But it was Barkley who had the most first-place votes, 38, as he finished 22 points behind Johnson.

Jordan was next with 571 points and 21 first-place votes.

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The previous closest vote was in 1981, when Julius Erving beat Larry Bird by 31 points. That was the first year a media panel began choosing the league’s MVP. Before that, the MVP was selected by the players, who voted for only one player each.

“Every player has a gift,” Lakers General Manager Jerry West said. “Magic Johnson’s gift is that he makes a difference for everyone around him. He’s not just a great player, he’s a great team player.”

NBA Commissioner David Stern presented Johnson the trophy for the second consecutive year at a news conference today at the otherwise quiet Forum.

The award will be given to Johnson between the first and second games of the Western Conference final, same as last year. But unlike last year--and most years in Magic’s career--the Lakers aren’t involved.

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Although the Lakers had the league’s best regular-season record this year (63-19), they were eliminated in five games by the Phoenix Suns in the conference semifinals.

Johnson said he didn’t know what he was going to do for the next month, since he hadn’t planned to be off work so early.

Ironically, Lakers Coach Pat Riley earlier received the NBA’s Coach of the Year honor for the first time.

So the Lakers had the league’s coach and MVP of the 1989-90 season, yet were eliminated from the playoffs the earliest since 1981.

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Johnson, however, did have an MVP-type season. He averaged 22.3 points, 11.5 assists and 6.5 rebounds per game this season and averaged 25.2 points in nine playoff games.

Karl Malone of the Utah Jazz was fourth, followed by Patrick Ewing of the New York Knicks, Rookie of the Year David Robinson of the San Antonio Spurs and Akeem Olajuwon of the Houston Rockets.

Johnson, 30, has led the Lakers to five NBA championships since joining them in 1979. The team reached the Western Conference finals for eight straight years before losing 4-1 to the Suns.

Johnson was the first player selected in the 1979 NBA draft after he left Michigan State at the conclusion of his sophomore season, when he led the Spartans to the NCAA Championship.

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As a rookie, Johnson also led the Lakers to a championship as they beat the Philadelphia 76ers in six games in the Finals.

In 1986-87, Johnson was both the regular-season MVP and the NBA Finals MVP as the Lakers won the first of back-to-back championships, becoming the first team to do so since the Boston Celtics in 1969-70.

Johnson also won the NBA Finals MVP award in 1980 and 1982, making him the first player in league history to win three such awards.

He becomes only the sixth player and first guard in NBA history to win the MVP award three times.

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