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September 25, 2000|LARRY STEWART

What: "SportsCentury: Magic Johnson"

Where: ESPN Classic

When: Tonight, 5 and 9

Los Angeles sports legends will be featured over the next three nights on ESPN Classic's outstanding "SportsCentury" series, a remake of last year's series that featured the top 50 North American athletes of the 20th century. This expanded series features those 50, plus others, in new one-hour shows.

After Magic Johnson tonight, Jerry West will be featured Tuesday night and Bill Walton the next night.

The Johnson show is typically well done, a balanced piece that is journalistically sound, although it could be argued that there may be a little bit too much emphasis on the HIV aspect of Johnson's life.

The show opens with Johnson's announcement on Nov. 7, 1991, that he is HIV-positive. People such as Chick Hearn, Pat Riley, Johnson's agent Lon Rosen and some of Johnson's Laker teammates talk about the devastating news. "Everybody feared he was going to die," says Riley.

Johnson's wife, Cookie, says they decided from Day One to "fight this thing," and Johnson says, "My father taught me strength."

The show then moves to Johnson's youth in East Lansing, Mich., where he grew up in a family of 10 children, including four older brothers. Johnson led Everett High to a 73-5 record in three seasons. He was 15 when a local sportswriter nicknamed him "Magic."

Johnson's years at Michigan State, his rivalry with Larry Bird, his years with the Lakers, his effect on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, his infectious smile, his retirement and comeback, his brief coaching career, his successful business career and his failed late-night talk show are all part of the program.

The opening, with Johnson announcing he is HIV-positive, may be a downer, but the end is uplifting. His doctor says that because of medical advances his immune system is healthier today than it was then.

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