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One More Time for Goodby : Pro basketball: Criticism subsides when Magic Johnson arrives for NBA All-Star game.

February 08, 1992|MARK HEISLER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ORLANDO, Fla. — After days of controversy Magic Johnson, the All-Star, arrived and the tumult subsided.

Mark Price of the Cleveland Cavaliers, who had raised the safety issue of an HIV-positive participant, said he had no real concern.

"If I was that worried about it, I wouldn't be here playing," the usually amiable Price said tersely Friday.

"Once I was picked for the team, I knew I was going to play."

Charles Barkley of the Philadelphia 76ers, who said he was thinking of calling Johnson and asking him not to play so he wouldn't divert attention from young All-Stars, said his comments had been misrepresented.

"That's how the media is," Barkley said, "like maggots."

Johnson, only slightly subdued, said he knew it might be like this.

"You just have to go in knowing it," he said at a news conference that filled a large hotel ballroom in Disney World.

"I knew that from Day 1. Once I was going to come out publicly, it's going to be some good, it's going to be some bad. You've just got to take it, deal with it and keep on going. You can't let anyone distract you from what you're going to do.

"You're always surprised at some attitudes, whether you should or shouldn't play, but the fans voted me in. If it was a different situation, I could see it (the backlash). Different people have their own opinion about the situation, and they have a right to that but . . . come Sunday, I'm going to be out there and all that will be gone."

The NBA will adopt the Olympic rule--halting play if anyone is cut--and brought along its medical panel.

Dr. David Rogers, vice chairman of the National Commission on AIDS, said Johnson's appearance "will send an absolutely magnificent message to people with the HIV virus: They should continue with life as it should be."

He also disputed the risk of the "bump scenario"--two players colliding, cutting each other and exchanging blood.

Said Rogers: "I wish we could find the right adjectives: Vanishingly small. Infinitesimal. Remote. Unmeasurably small.

"It is not transmitted by casual contact, even of the most intimate sort. . . . It looks like it takes a fair injection of cells into your blood."

Rogers said a study of hundreds of health care workers showed that those splattered with HIV-positive blood or saliva didn't get the virus.

Only those who suffered "needle sticks" became infected, Rogers said, and only when a "hollow bore" needle was used.

Even under those circumstances, Rogers said that one person in 200 got the virus.

Johnson has been similarly cleared by the International Olympic Committee's medical committee and plans to take his spot on the U.S. team in Barcelona.

He said again that returning to the Lakers "crosses your mind," but he will consider that later.

"This is going to be an emotional game," Johnson said. "Nelly (West Coach Don Nelson) stomping his feet, hollering like (Pat) Riley used to, or (Mike) Dunleavy. It's going to be great.

"I will suck it all up and devour it and put a cap on it and never let it go again.

"You know you miss a couple things. The first thing you miss is being one of the boys. You don't know about that until you're actually in team situations. You get to see people grow up. You get to be part of their family. You get to see kids being born. You get to be there in the low points, like when a family member dies. You get to have secret names only the team can call you. Only my team calls me Buck, and only my team can call me Buck.

"The competition is next. . . . Those things you miss, and now I have a chance to do it one more time.

"It will be a great event for me Sunday because of the fact it might be my last game--so my VCR \o7 will\f7 be working. . . . I can pop it in for my son or daughter who will be born soon and say, 'Hey, this is Dad's last game and he got a chance to say goodby.' "

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