Magic Gets Into the Act, Bumps Referee, Faces Ban


Dad just got caught breaking curfew.

Five days after chastising teammate Nick Van Exel for making contact with a referee, Magic Johnson, that self-described ambassador of the NBA, tried the same bump-and-run play Sunday afternoon and got the same immediate penalty. He bumped an official, then got run.

The ejection came in the second quarter of the Lakers’ 118-114 victory over the Phoenix Suns before 17,505 at the Forum, not to mention a national-television audience that no doubt included a few members of the league brass who were wondering how much worse this epidemic can get. The fallout will come today or Wednesday.

Van Exel was suspended seven games and fined $25,000 for his forearm shove of Ron Garretson last Tuesday, but this was nowhere near as bad. Still, Johnson clearly bumped official Scott Foster, then later acknowledged fault, apologized to everyone from Jerry Buss to Foster and referees everywhere and figured he’ll be suspended for “one or two games at the most.” There was no similar concession from the many fans who threw wadded-up cups, ice, pretzels and other debris on the court after Johnson was ejected.


“I’m taking it harder than anybody,” said Johnson, who takes pride in being one of the players who helped build the league to its current lofty stature and is clearly pained by the idea of now having his name attached to its negative images. “I feel I let my team down, I let Nick down. If I’m going to come down hard and strong on Nick, then I’ve got to set an example.”

Johnson, of course, has no history of a bad temper--exact numbers are not known, but he has no more than a few ejections in 1,106 games as a player and coach--and he certainly did not lose control in the events leading up to the 4:13 mark of the second quarter. He may, however, have been frustrated.

Two minutes earlier, he had been called for what he considered a ticky-tack foul. Then, with 4:43 remaining, he was called for an offensive foul for hooking Michael Finley in an attempt to get to the basket. Finally, he drove the lane, missed a shot and wondered, with animation, why no foul was called on A.C. Green.

Johnson wanted an explanation. Foster was nearby.

“I gave him a technical for coming at me and arguing the no-call,” Foster said. “Him charging at me was enough.”

Johnson wanted an explanation for that, but he said the second-year referee would not acknowledge his question. In what Johnson said was an attempt to get in front of Foster, he put his left shoulder and chest into Foster’s upper body. Foster immediately put his whistle in his mouth and did the honors.

“Intentional or accidental, it doesn’t matter,” Foster said. “He bumped me, and there’s no question about whether he’s ejected or not.”

Johnson seemed stunned at the events, eight minutes into his appearance that had already been worth eight points, two assists and one rebound. He stayed on the court for a minute, talking with Green, his former Laker teammate.

“We were both kind of amazed at what had just happened,” Green said.

Johnson left to cheers. During the lengthy timeout that followed, fans littered the court and then, when play resumed, shadowed Foster with boos as he went up and down the court.

Johnson was upset too, but only at first. He gave an interview to NBC outside the locker room and claimed Foster had caused the collision by stopping short. Then Johnson watched a replay and realized he was wrong. Insistent on setting the record straight, he sent for the network’s sideline reporter for an interview to acknowledge guilt.

“I’m sitting here now and can’t believe I got kicked out,” he said later. “Not because I made contact, because that’s the rule. But because of me. That’s not me.”

Still, he acknowledged: “I think if it had been a veteran ref, it would have been different. It would have been a lot different.”

Minus Van Exel and Johnson, the Lakers were down to 10 players, but finding no sympathy from the Suns. Because of injuries--Danny Manning sat out his fourth game in a row because of tendinitis of the left knee, John Williams his second because of a bruised right hand and Joe Kleine fainted during the national anthem--Phoenix had only nine players.

Both teams were relying on only six players as the game entered the fourth quarter. The Lakers pulled ahead, 115-107, with 2:10 remaining, then the Suns used a 7-0 rally to pull within a point.

It came down to Vlade Divac being double-teamed by Wesley Person and Wayman Tisdale, with Green also in the vicinity, about 12 feet out on the left side.

As the defense continued to surround him, Divac spotted Elden Campbell wide open underneath the basket, then delivered the pass in traffic for a Campbell dunk with 10.2 seconds left and a 117-114 lead.

The Suns got a good try to tie, but Person’s straight-away three-point shot with about five seconds to play hit the back of the rim, rolled to the left and then popped out.

Eddie Jones grabbed the rebound, was fouled and made one free throw with 1.6 showing for the final margin.


Magic Marker

Tracking Magic Johnson’s comeback



Min. FG FT Pts. Reb. Ast. 8 3-4 (.750) 2-2 (1.000) 8 1 2



Min. FG% FT% Pts. Reb. Ast. 29.8 .474 .870 14.9 5.8 6.8



Min. FG% FT% Pts. Reb. Ast. 36.9 .521 .848 19.7 7.3 11.4


Career averages before comeback



LAKERS WITH MAGIC 26-10 (.722)