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HERO WATCH : Magic’s Best Hour

It’s time to give Magic an assist. The Lakers star who won our hearts while making Los Angeles the NBA champ year after year is in trouble, the worst kind of trouble. He has tested positive for the AIDS virus and is retiring from basketball.

A lesser man would have made up a cover story. It would have been hepatitis, even cancer, anything but the ultimate front-office nightmare. Not Earvin Johnson: He told the truth for the same reason that, as one of basketball’s best ever, he has never had to swagger or boast. If the truth was good enough in the best of times, nothing but the truth would be good enough in this worst of times.

We were told that Rock Hudson brought AIDS out of the closet, but this is different. It may be hard to think of a 6-foot-9 millionaire as anybody’s kid brother, but that’s how many people have always felt about Magic. The dazzling smile, the up-for-anything humor, the unstudied, perfect courtesy. And now, our kid brother has the AIDS virus.

If it can happen to Magic Johnson, as Magic said at the saddest press conference in sports history, it can happen to anybody. You don’t have to be gay. You don’t have to be a junkie. You just have to be careless. That’s the message Magic says he will now try to bring to the country. If anybody can do it, he can.

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We should help him. That’s the first part of the assist. We should talk about him in the present tense. That’s the second part. A great athlete is about to become a great teacher, a teacher for those who will learn from no one else.

Magic, we still need you.


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