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NBA FINALS

Magic, Brown Enter Hall

Basketball: Laker great and former UCLA coach honored, along with Olson, Petrovic, Yow and Globetrotters.

June 06, 2002|JERRY CROWE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Magic Johnson, whose legendary basketball career was defined by his passion for the game, couldn't help himself Wednesday when he was introduced as one of the newest members of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

He got choked up.

"That's it for me," the former Laker great explained after a luncheon at the Biltmore Hotel. "It closes everything as far as basketball....

"It's like the dessert of a great career: to know people respected the way I played, the way I approached the game, the way I played the game."

Johnson, whose engaging personality and dazzling playmaking put the sizzle in Showtime and helped the Lakers to five NBA championships in the 1980s, is the most prominent member of the hall's Class of 2002, but not the only one with Southland ties.

Larry Brown, the well-traveled former UCLA and Clipper coach, also will be inducted into the hall at Springfield, Mass., on Sept. 27, as will Arizona Coach Lute Olson, whose career included stops at Anaheim Loara and Huntington Beach Marina high schools, Long Beach City College and Long Beach State.

They'll be joined by Drazen Petrovic, a Croatian who played in two Olympics and four NBA seasons before he was killed in a car crash in 1993; North Carolina State women's Coach Kay Yow, who guided the U.S. to the gold medal in the 1988 Seoul Olympics; and the Harlem Globetrotters, who will become the fifth team enshrined.

Among the 24 finalists who didn't make the cut were former Laker forward James Worthy, who played on three championship teams with Johnson, former Laker coach Bill Sharman and Laker assistant Tex Winter.

Laker Coach Phil Jackson, speaking before Wednesday night's game against the New Jersey Nets, said he was perplexed that Winter had been passed over.

"It's kind of amazing that this guy's been coaching for 55 years in basketball, he's contributed the bulk of his knowledge to the game, he's a ready clinician, has always been able to speak to people, have time for people, spread the word of basketball ... and yet the Hall of Fame has refused to acknowledge his influence on the game," Jackson said.

Brown, whose Philadelphia 76ers reached the NBA Finals last June, guided UCLA to the NCAA championship game in 1980 before moving on to become the only coach in NBA history to lead six teams to the playoffs, the Clippers among them, and helping Kansas win the 1988 NCAA title.

"The experience I had at UCLA is something that I'll always cherish," said Brown, who left in 1981 after staying for only two seasons. "I always felt it was one of the big mistakes I made in my life [leaving to coach the Nets]."

Coaching, he said, is a gift.

"I'm doing exactly what I love to do," he said, "and if it wasn't at the professional level or college, I'd be coaching my son in high school and be perfectly happy....

"If I had my druthers, I would have coached ... high school basketball on Long Island, like I was supposed to do."

Olson, who grew up in North Dakota, said he never dreamed of moving on to a major college when he was coaching in Orange County in the 1960s.

"When I first started on the high school level," he said, "all I wanted to do was a good job. Things broke well and I got an opportunity."

After one season at Long Beach State, he moved on to Iowa and Arizona, where he has guided the Wildcats to the nation's best winning percentage over the last 15 seasons and four Final Four appearances. They won the NCAA title in 1997.

The Globetrotters, formed 76 years ago, never won a title, but they are "ingrained in our culture as goodwill ambassadors to the game," master of ceremonies Dick Enberg said in introducing them. They have played more than 20,000 games in 100 countries.

"We would like to think that the Harlem Globetrotters were partly responsible for some of the integration of [African American] players into the NBA and the game of basketball," Globetrotter Coach Tex Harrison said Wednesday.

"The game of basketball enjoys a great popularity worldwide today and most of it is due to the popularity ... of the Harlem Globetrotters."

Also enjoying a great popularity worldwide is the NBA. Much of that is due to such players as Johnson, whose rivalry with Larry Bird lifted the league to unprecedented heights in the 1980s and paved the way for Michael Jordan, Shaquille O'Neal, Kobe Bryant and others to cash in later.

Johnson, the No. 1 pick in the 1979 NBA draft, arrived in Los Angeles after helping Michigan State win the NCAA championship in an epic battle against Bird and Indiana State, a rivalry that would continue throughout the '80s with the Lakers and Boston Celtics.

"I think everyone looked at Larry and I, we tried to make ourselves better, as well as our teammates," Johnson said of his adversary, who was inducted into the hall in 1998. "We played the team game. We did anything to win....

"We've been linked together for not only college but in our NBA careers, so to be in the Hall of Fame with him, who is a guy I admired ...

"I still say that Michael was the greatest to play in the air, but Larry was the greatest to play on the floor. He is a special guy and it was a special time....

"It was wonderful."

A 12-time NBA All-Star and three-time most valuable player, Johnson led the Lakers to titles in 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987 and 1988, captivating fans with his radiant smile and obvious love for the game.

His November 1991 announcement that he had contracted HIV effectively ended his playing career and was treated at the time as a death notice, but Johnson is healthy and robust entering the Hall of Fame.

For that, he is grateful.

"You thank God that you are here instead of my wife receiving [posthumous recognition]," he said. "I know what a blessing it is. I know how wonderful it is to be standing here ... and, more so, I get to enjoy it with my family.

"It's the icing, the cake and the ice cream."

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