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ALL-STAR REPORT

Stern Calls Johnson 'Historic'

February 15, 2004|Diane Pucin and Lonnie White | Times Staff Writers

David Stern said that his best and proudest moments during the last 20 years of attending NBA All-Star games as commissioner came in 1992 and Thursday.

"If there's a fan here who doesn't have a smile thinking about Magic Johnson in the 1992 All-Star game, sinking that final three and being the MVP," Stern said, "and then fast-forwarding that he's still alive, I'm surprised. Because those of us that were there did not expect him to be. It made Thursday's tribute to Magic Johnson one of the most memorable evenings for me in this league."

Johnson had revealed he had HIV, the virus which causes AIDS, in November 1991.

"For those of you who remember," Stern said, "this was a nation that was behaving in, I would say, an ugly way with respect to HIV prior to Magic Johnson, and he changed the debate on AIDS and HIV in this country and in the world. If you're getting the impression I think Magic is a pretty historic figure both inside the NBA and outside the NBA, you are right."

And Stern said he was amazed that at a time "when the continent of Africa is about to be wiped out by AIDS, dealing with hunger, the lack of healthcare and a variety of other things, the tempest in the teapot that is Janet Jackson leaves us all gaping at the way people spend their time."

Johnson said he was grateful that Stern made sure Johnson was included in that 1992 game in Orlando at a time when some NBA players had expressed fears about playing with an HIV-positive athlete and that Tim Hardaway gave up his spot as a starter to Johnson.

"The NBA has allowed me to have my best memories of life because of that '92 game," Johnson said. "That game was just incredible and then, to top it off, I went to the Olympics right after that. But if David Stern doesn't allow me to play, it would never have happened. So I think I have to thank him."

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Johnson had some words of caution for Laker guard Kobe Bryant. Bryant, Johnson said, should take a look around the league and make some phone calls before deciding whether he wants to leave the Lakers and become a one-man star somewhere else.

"He should make a call to Tracy McGrady, Allen Iverson and those guys, even Kevin Garnett before he got Sam [Cassell] and [Latrell] Sprewell and ask them what is it like to really have your own team?

"Is it all what it's made up to be? No. Because if you don't have that other star sitting beside you, you're going to be in big trouble. That's the way I feel about it and I tell him that. Remember, now, you like to go and do your thing. Well, that big man makes it easier for you to do that."

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Over the years, the slam dunk competition has become a major part of the All-Star weekend, but for former NBA big man Daryl Dawkins, the event came along too late.

Dawkins, the first NBA player to name his dunks, said he doesn't mind that he never got a chance to compete in such an event in his prime.

"The slam dunk competition is what this whole thing was all about for the longest time," Dawkins said. "I am glad to see this is still going strong."

If Dawkins could have competed in Saturday's competition at Staples Center, he already had a few innovative dunks on call.

"There is always something new to be done. The other night, I dreamed about a dunk," Dawkins said. "Take the ball, put it behind your back with one hand and then grab it with the other hand and dunk it with that hand. I have never seen that done and I think I'm going to have to try that.

"But if I had the opportunity, I would have had to release the spine-chiller or the turbo-sexophonic delight for a crowd like this. Or maybe the broomsweeper delight, rim wrecker or the heart stopper.

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