Jerry Zgoda's Sunday Insider: There was one Magical NBA All-Star Game - Minneapolis Star Tribune

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Twenty years later, anybody who was there -- and millions who were not -- remembers all the high points from the first time the NBA All-Star Game came to Orlando.

And who ever remembers anything about an All-Star Game?

They do about this one.

Three months after he announced to the world that he had contracted HIV and must retire, Magic Johnson made his 12th and final All-Star appearance. He was elected to play by the voting fans, approved by Commissioner David Stern and inserted into the starting lineup when Tim Hardaway volunteered his spot.

All that happened after that was an MVP performance and an unforgettable game that Johnson later said was the first one called on account of hugs.

"An amazing, amazing time," Johnson says now, "and an amazing day for myself."

Twenty years later, Johnson is still very much alive and well, a notion that was almost inconceivable the day he announced he had the virus that causes AIDS.

Twenty years later, it's easy to forget the fear prevalent among some of his peers -- voiced most noticeably by Utah's Karl Malone -- worried they could be infected by playing against him.

"It had a great impact on the world," Johnson said on a conference call last week to promote an ESPN documentary "The Announcement" that airs March 11 and the "Magic/Bird" play that will open on Broadway in April. "When you think about it, well, let's recall the things that happened. Then there was some uncertainty with players who didn't know if they could play against me, what would happen. Then also people saying, 'Can he still play?' "

Johnson and Eastern Conference starter Isiah Thomas greeted each other with their customary pre-game kiss. Not long after, Detroit's Dennis Rodman did something no All-Star does -- really play some defense -- presumably to prove he wasn't afraid of contract Johnson's disease and Johnson answered by sinking a hook shot he remembers to this day.

Everybody else won't ever forget the three successive three-pointers Johnson made it in the final minutes nor the turns Thomas and Michael Jordan took trying to beat Johnson one-on-one -- without success -- as the game ticked away.

When Johnson made one final step-back three with 15 seconds remaining, the game was over, as teammates and foes alike congratulated him with hug after hug and the crowd roared, before it ever ended.

"The way I performed let people know that I could still play," Johnson said about a 25-point, nine-rebound performance. "It just showed people Magic is back. He's OK. You can play against him. Nothing is going to happen. So it did a lot for the world. It did a lot for HIV and AIDS at the same time. It did a lot for people dealing with not just HIV but anything else, that they can go on and live a productive life.

"So the NBA, that All-Star Game in Orlando educated the world and it was great therapy for me."

26 Feb, 2012

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