The Los Angeles Lakers franchise had never been the same since Magic Johnson announced his official retirement. Following the public reveal of his HIV diagnosis, Johnson decided it was time to step away from the NBA in order to battle the virus in his body.
Thus, the Lakers saw their star playing retire during the prime of his career, during an unexpected twist that had taken the NBA by storm. Johnson was never the same away from basketball, dealing with a world he wasn’t familiar with and a changed perspective on life.
While he couldn’t play, Johnson missed the game dearly for a number of years before the status quo would change. On Jan. 30, 1996, the Lakers received a sudden jolt as Johnson played in his first official game since coming out of retirement.
It was at the Great Western Forum in front of a jam-packed crowd that was delirious over Johnson’s return to the court.
After leading his team to five championships, Johnson had given the Lakers everything he had, partnering alongside Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and James Worthy during the ‘Showtime’ era. However, the hype surrounding his return provided a unique electricity in the air.
The Lakers hosted the Golden State Warriors in what was a bit of an unusual night for Johnson beyond the excitement over coming out of retirement. With Nick Van Exel the starting point guard, Johnson watched from the bench before entering the game.
He received a standing ovation upon checking in, and ran with the opportunity to play again. The Lakers held a 72-63 lead at halftime in the high-scoring affair. The Warriors also had their own set of emerging talents in the backcourt in All-Stars B.J. Armstrong and Latrell Spreewell.
A four-point difference in favor of the Lakers would establish a 13-point advantage going into the final quarter, a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. When it was all said and done, the Lakers played to the tune of a 128-118 victory.
Johnson was spectacular in his return, collecting 19 points, 10 assists, eight rebounds and two steals in 27 minutes of action.
Although not quite in the same shape, Johnson still demonstrated his magnificent court vision and ability to impact a game.
The Hall-of-Famer would go on to appear in 31 more games that season, making nine starts. From there on he would call it quits, ending his NBA career on his terms and showing that he still had some magic left in him.
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