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November 06, 2001|Larry Stewart

What: "SportsCenter Flashback: Magic Johnson Retires from the NBA"

Where: ESPN Classic, today, 4 and 9 p.m.

Magic Johnson made the shocking announcement that he had contracted HIV and would retire from the NBA on Nov. 7, 1991. ESPN looks back at that announcement and the aftermath in this excellent, one-hour special.

At the top of the ESPN show are comments from Times Sports Editor Bill Dwyre and columnist Bill Plaschke.

"Magic was a playboy," Dwyre says. "It was showtime on the court, and it was showtime off the court."

From Plaschke: "The partying has always been legendary, but Magic was such a good guy, a nice guy, it was sort of like Babe Ruth. Lots of things about what happened off the court just weren't written about."

Others, including teammates, also talk about Johnson's promiscuity.

Former Times columnist Mike Downey calls him "a male nymphomaniac."

Michael Cooper says Magic was "a single man with a showtime team in a showtime town with showtime money."

The show deals with much more than Johnson's off-court activity, however. Among other aspects of the story are the events that led up to the announcement. Laker publicity director John Black talks about being called into owner Jerry Buss' office: "Jerry West was there, and I looked over and Jerry was sitting there crying."

Johnson recalls getting the news from his doctor.

"Am I going to live, not live, what?" he says. "I'm driving home thinking all the way, how could I tell [wife Cookie]."

Cookie is also interviewed at length, as are most of Johnson's teammates, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar being the noticeable exception.

The special also takes viewers through Johnson's two returns to the game, his coaching stint, his ill-fated interview with Chris Wallace, during which he talked about his sexual escapades, his health today and his successes as a businessman.

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