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A Messenger of Peace and the U.N. Go Showtime

Out on the sidewalk, a number of Tibet sympathizers carry picket signs with slogans like: “Save Tibet Now,” “Do for Tibet What You Did for Iraq” and “Don’t Let Tibet Die.”

Six of them are in Week 7 of a hunger strike.

Inside the hotel, hundreds of guests enjoy a nice lunch.

They are here in downtown Los Angeles--as the protesters are--for a brief visit by Kofi Annan, the United Nations’ secretary-general, who says, “I have just returned from a deeply moving trip overseas.”

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Annan tells of his travels:

To the Middle East, where he met people longing to live “free of fear and upheaval.”

And on to Geneva, where he attended a session of a Commission on Human Rights.

Annan also speaks of conditions in Sudan, one of the world’s “forgotten emergencies,” where millions suffer from starvation.

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And the same for Afghanistan, where a 6.1 earthquake, crime and a cruel regime have combined to hamper U.N. efforts to supply badly needed medicine and food.

There are also crises in Rwanda, and in Bosnia, and in so many places around the globe.

Annan and the U.N. need all the help they can get. So, naturally he turned to. . . .

Magic Johnson?

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I go up to the 32nd floor of the hotel Tuesday, thinking maybe I can catch Kofi Annan and Earvin Johnson during their private chat.

Four guys in suits and shades, who look as if they just stepped out of “In the Line of Fire,” guard the door.

I am tempted to tell them, “I hear Magic Johnson’s in there with Kobe Bryant.”

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But they don’t look like guys who would appreciate a little basketball humor.

Nevertheless, I’d love to know what they’re talking about in there.

I have spent a chunk of my life following Magic Johnson around the world, from a night in Lansing, Mich., when his high school honored him, to a day in Reus, Spain, when the Dream Team basketball squad landed at a remote airstrip for the 1996 Olympics.

I never know where he’ll turn up next.

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Friends are aware of my theory that there are actually 12 Magic Johnsons, either clones or look-alikes, who appear at events daily around the world. I have never known a guy who gets around the way this one gets around.

I have seen him dribble, pass and shoot. I’ve seen him at his peak and I’ve seen him at his weakest.

But I never expected him to become such a Player, capital P, in business, benevolence, politics, you name it.

“He’ll be right down,” Greg Roberts, the president of the Magic Johnson Foundation, says later, in a ballroom on a lower level of the hotel. “Kofi Annan’s still got him up there, talking about Earvin’s NBA championships.”

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Yeah, I figured it was either that or Tibet.

The foundation has donated more than $8 million to various charities since its inception in 1991, much of it to HIV/AIDS organizations and to children orphaned by the same vicious virus Magic has.

Even a Kofi Annan can’t help but look up to Magic Johnson.

“As you can see, we have two podiums here for them,” Roberts says in the ballroom, with a smile. “Because I think Kofi’s around 5-7, and Earvin’s 6-9.”

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The secretary-general is here to make Johnson an official “messenger of peace.”

That’s how the U.N. citation reads.

I believe Magic’s message to the world will include a continued wish for peace, a continued war on drugs, a continued education on disease and an attempt to persuade Lakers’ general manager Jerry West not to retire. (Sorry. More basketball humor.)

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Kofi Annan has many urgent matters on his agenda. To bring attention to the U.N.'s ambitions, however, he can always use a good point man.

That’s why he took a day away from the world’s troubles.

That’s why he stepped up onto a stand, so he could reach Magic Johnson’s lapel and pin a dove of peace on it.

“What a blessing,” Johnson told him. “I received a lot of awards in my short lifetime, but none more special. If I can only do half of what you’re doing, then I’ll be the best messenger of peace in the world. Can you imagine, a little country boy from Lansing, getting to do this?”

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I never knew Magic when he was small.

But I’ve never seen him stand taller.


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