Unlike so many of his spectacular moments, this one didn't contain anything close to the highlight-reel brilliance that long ago became his signature. So it will stand, simply, on its own merits.
Ten thousand assists.
Magic Johnson reached that threshold with a short toss in the fourth quarter of the Lakers' 102-89 victory over the Sacramento Kings on Thursday night at Arco Arena, a pass that Elden Campbell converted into a jumper with 4:48 remaining.
It made Johnson one of only two players to reach that peak, following Utah's John Stockton, at 11,045 and counting.
It was a pass that had been a long time in coming--more than four years--and still left everyone impressed.
"It was special," Johnson said after finishing with seven assists to push his career total to 10,002. "A great moment. To join John Stockton as one of only two players to get 10,000 is definitely a special occasion in my career."
Because Johnson was forced to wait until the fourth quarter for his moment, the most significant accomplishment for the Lakers early on was erasing most of a 16-point deficit from the first quarter. They got as close as 47-45 as Anthony Peeler delivered an offensive spark off the bench, then went into intermission down, 55-52, the first time Sacramento has led at halftime in 11 games.
It has been that kind of free fall for the Kings, losers of 23 of 29. This time, the lead was completely gone early in the third quarter, although they held a 76-75 advantage heading into the fourth despite Johnson's buzzer-beating three-point basket.
It was 85-85 when Johnson got the ball on the right side, backing defender Michael Smith down on the low post. Spotting Campbell in the lane, Johnson flipped the ball over. The 13-foot soft-touch jumper dropped--and so did another milestone.
There was no acknowledgment of the moment until a stoppage in play soon after, at which time the accomplishment was announced to the crowd and referee Joe Forte presented the ball to Johnson with a handshake. He accepted that and the appreciative standing ovation from the fans at once, holding his newest trophy aloft and pointing toward Sacramento Coach Garry St. Jean as a thank you for letting the brief celebration intrude on the game.
"Maybe that's indicative of the way things have been going for us the last month," St. Jean said later, heaping praise upon Johnson as an ambassador for basketball. "That's the way things have been happening."
Johnson flipped the ball to the Laker bench for safe keeping. Then he went back to business, continuing to run down the Kings and whatever magic numbers may still be out there.
Magic Johnson, having declared his intentions to return next season, must now decide where. He will be an unrestricted free agent this summer for the first time in his career and is intrigued by the possibility of playing for Pat Riley again, this time in Miami, or New York, but it's a mortal lock he'll remain a Laker. "This is home," Johnson said. "This is everything, in L.A." Especially if they land a major free agent in the off-season and Johnson sees them as legitimate championship contenders. . . . Much the way he did when the Lakers faced Karl Malone and the Jazz, Johnson is downplaying any extra meaning to tonight's game with the Phoenix Suns, whose owner, Jerry Colangelo, voiced concerns during the aborted comeback of 1992 as to whether an HIV-positive player should be in the NBA. "We've gone past that, I think," Johnson said. "We've all educated ourselves and moved on. I'm not a get-back-at or hold-grudges person." Colangelo, like Malone, has since changed his stance, saying he has learned more about the virus and now has no objections to Johnson playing. . . . Elden Campbell had five blocked shots, the fourth time in the last seven games he has blocked at least four.
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Magic Johnson became the second player to reach 10,000 career assists. All-time NBA leaders:
Player No. John Stockton 11,045 Magic Johnson 10,002 Oscar Robertson 9,887 Isiah Thomas 9,061 Maurice Cheeks 7,392 Lenny Wilkins 7,211 Bob Cousy 6,955 Guy Rodgers 6,917 Nate Archibald 6,476 John Lucas 6,454
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Tracking Magic Johnson's comeback:
Min. FG FT Pts. Reb. Ast. 30 5-10 (.500) 4.4 (1.00) 15 5 7
Min. FG FT Pts. Reb. Ast. 25.6 .476 .788 14.2 5.7 6.8
Min. FG FT Pts. Reb. Ast. 36.9 .521 .848 19.7 7.3 11.4
Career averages before comeback
LAKERS BEFORE MAGIC 24-18 (.571) LAKERS WITH MAGIC 13-3 (.813)