Magic Johnson, saying he was really "ready to give it up" this time, retired from the NBA again. At age 36, chances are he won't change his mind.
Johnson, whose comeback began in triumph and ended in controversy, issued a statement Tuesday announcing his retirement from the Los Angeles Lakers, saying it was time to return to his business interests."I was satisfied with my return to the NBA, although I would have hoped we would have gone further into the playoffs," he said in a statement issued by his agent, Lon Rosen. "But now, I am ready to give it up. It's time to move on.
"I am going out on my terms, something I couldn't say when I aborted a comeback in 1992."
Johnson, who turns 37 in August and would have been a free agent on July 1, first retired just before the start of the 1991-92 season after learning he had tested positive for the virus that causes AIDS.
The three-time league MVP decided to make a comeback before the 1992-93 season but quit again shortly before the start of the season when several players expressed concerns about playing with him.
After considering a comeback on several occasions since then, Johnson finally returned to the Lakers on Jan. 29, helping fuel a 20-12 surge that got the team into the playoffs as the Western Conference's fourth seed.
However, the Lakers were eliminated by the two-time defending NBA champion Houston Rockets 3-1 in a best-of-5 first-round playoff series.
Rosen said Johnson's decision to retire again "has nothing to do with his health."
The announcement by the player who led the Lakers to five NBA championships surprised the team, which was given no advance warning of the move.
"From the time he came to this team almost 17 years ago, Earvin Johnson has been a very special part of our lives," Lakers executive vice president of basketball operations Jerry West said in a statement.
"While this is a sad day, it's one that we always knew would come, and I would rather look at it remembering all the great moments he brought to this team and our fans. Obviously, we wish him the best in his future endeavors, and will look forward to having him around as he was the past 41/2 years before his comeback."
Johnson was around, all right. He coached the Lakers for the final 16 games of the 1993-94 season, going 5-11, and purchased a five percent ownership interest on June 27, 1994. He sold his stake back to owner Jerry Buss before returning as a player.
"We want what is best for Magic," Buss said in a statement. "We supported him in his return, and we support him again in his retirement. Despite the disappointment he and our organization felt during the playoffs, the special relationship Earvin continued to have with fans everywhere, myself included, had to make this past season a rewarding one for him."
Johnson played in 32 games for the Lakers this season, averaging 14.6 points, 6.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds.
After coming back, he was hampered by a calf injury that caused him to miss some playing time. While he was dominant at times, he looked his age at other times.
Nevertheless, he termed his comeback a success.
"The support generated throughout the league and from fans worldwide was tremendous and I want to thank everyone," Johnson said in his statement. "I also want to thank all Laker fans and the entire Laker organization, who has continually supported me. ...
"This team has a great future and I will be excited to sit courtside and root them on to a championship very soon. In announcing this decision now, I wanted to give the Lakers every advantage in planning their future and securing one of the much-talked about free agents this summer."
Only 10 days earlier, in a news conference after the Lakers were eliminated from the playoffs, Johnson reiterated his desire to play again next season.
"This is where I want to be, I'm a Laker," Johnson said at the time. "I'm looking at the Lakers as No. 1."
But he wasn't entirely happy with his role on the team, saying he hoped to see more action at point guard than power forward and hinting he would welcome offers from other teams.
"I don't know what I'm going to do," Johnson said following a team meeting on May 3. "As of today, I want to play next year. I can't go out like this, I don't want to. This is not my style, this is not what I came back for."
For whatever reason, that all changed in the ensuing 10 days.
The 6-foot-9 Johnson leaves with the second-highest assist total in NBA history, behind Utah's John Stockton. In 906 regular-season games in his career, Johnson averaged 19.5 points, 7.2 rebounds and 11.2 assists.
Johnson said he will continue to direct his growing business interests, including his Magic Johnson Theatres and building-land development company, as well as playing exhibition games throughout the world.
Johnson's comeback was the talk of the NBA for a while as the Lakers won and appeared harmonious. In March, things started to go wrong.
Leading scorer Cedric Ceballos, whose playing time had diminished since Johnson's return, abruptly left the team for four days. Ceballos, who was off water skiing in Arizona, was stripped of his co-captaincy and returned after missing two games.
Then, on April 9, starting point guard Nick Van Exel bumped referee Ron Garretson in the fourth quarter of a game at Denver, drawing a seven-game suspension and $25,000 fine.
Johnson publicly criticized both his young teammates for their actions.
But five days later, Johnson himself bumped referee Scott Foster in the second quarter of a nationally televised game against Phoenix and was suspended for three games and fined $10,000.
The Lakers entered the playoffs in chaos, and after losing the first game to the Rockets 87-83 on April 25, Johnson was critical of the way he was used by Lakers coach Del Harris.
Johnson scored 26 points in Game 2 on April 27 to lead the Lakers to a 104-94 victory but was mostly ineffective in Games 3 and 4.
In his final game, he had only eight points in 30 minutes and sat out much of the fourth quarter as the Lakers tried without success to catch the Rockets, who won a 102-94 decision.
After leading Michigan State to the NCAA championship as a sophomore in 1979, the Lakers made Johnson the first overall selection in the NBA draft.
He led the Lakers to five league championships in 12 seasons before his first retirement. The Lakers reached the NBA Finals in nine of those 12 years, the last time in 1991.
Following his initial retirement, he returned as a member of the U.S. Olympic basketball team, which cruised to a gold medal in Barcelona.