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Magic Has Everything Covered

February 13, 1996|HELENE ELLIOTT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Magic Johnson has had 137 triple-doubles. Last week, he got his first quadruple cover.

Johnson became the first sports figure ever featured on the cover of Time, Sports Illustrated, Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report on the same date. U.S. News bumped a political-themed cover and Newsweek put off other topics to feature Johnson, using his return to the Lakers to discuss issues related to AIDS and HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. All four magazines are dated Feb. 12.

Only three sports figures had previously appeared on Time, Newsweek and Sports Illustrated on the same date: Secretariat on June 11, 1973, after winning the Triple Crown; Joe Montana on Jan. 25, 1982, after his first Super Bowl victory, and O.J. Simpson on June 27, 1994, after his arrest for allegedly murdering his former wife and Ron Goldman.

"We decided [the previous] Tuesday afternoon it was more than just a sports cover. It was a health cover," said Walter Isaacson, managing editor of Time. "It was, more importantly, a way to look at the change in the way we in society look at AIDS in the four years since he was unnecessarily benched."

An announcement the same week at an international medical conference that new drugs called protease inhibitors had shown promise in treating AIDS might have made Time's cover as a science story, Isaacson said. Johnson's return, he added, "personified it, made it inspiring."

Mark Whitaker, managing editor of Newsweek, said his magazine chose Johnson because it was "a very compelling personal story."

U.S. News, which rarely runs sports-related covers, ditched a political story to picture Johnson and stories about other HIV-infected and AIDS patients.

"We did end up switching gears," said Celeste James, the magazine's senior media relations manager. "We decided this was big enough."

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