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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Magic Returns Showtime to Lakers


INGLEWOOD, California -- Magic Johnson had the ball just across midcourt with 14 seconds left, then passed it to Eddie Jones to dribble the final moments off the scoreboard. Jones, who knew better, threw it back for the final eight ticks.

Because, even though Cedric Ceballos scored 33 points, Tuesday was Johnson's night, 55 months in the making. So, then, it would be his game to close out, this 128-118 Los Angeles Laker victory over the Golden State Warriors.

Nineteen points, while making seven of 14 shots from the field and five of six from the line. Ten assists, eight rebounds, 27 minutes.

What do you mean he was ever gone?

"It was great," Johnson said. "It was so much fun. Man."

Johnson originally retired in 1991, after being diagnosed as HIV-positive.

Tuesday, the man thrilled the crowd and sparked memories, while helping the Lakers to 44 assists, an NBA season high. He may even have done the impossible: exceed expectations.

"I was pleasantly surprised," Laker assistant coach Bill Bertka said. "I didn't expect him to be this effective this early."

Seems like old times? Not quite.

That was Nick Van Exel who led the Lakers onto the court to a huge ovation before the game, with Johnson coming out eighth. And Magic did start on the bench.

On the other hand ...

The atmosphere was electric.

When Elden Campbell got his second foul 2:21 into the game, the moment had arrived. Coach Del Harris signaled to the bench, but Johnson wasn't quite ready and felt lost at first.

"Del said, 'Let's go.' I said, 'Huh?"

Johnson stood up and walked to the scorer's table. The crowd stood then, too, cheering for 50 seconds as the face that needed no introduction was introduced. Then Johnson went in, for the first time since June 12, 1991.

After missing his first shot, he quickly got into the flow of the game.

At one point in the first half, he faked and drove for a layup around Joe Smith, a rookie for whom Johnson was a boyhood idol. Smith was unfazed.

"I mean, it's not like I'm the first person he made a great pass over or he shot the hook over," he said after the game.

Johnson also handled the ball, even when Van Exel was on the court. On the defensive end Johnson banged bodies, although he was visibly wearing down in the second half, after facing double-teams for much of the game.

He will also help return some of the team's Showtime image. About 2,300 tickets for Tuesday night were available when he made his comeback official. In about five hours, they were gone, just the second Lakers sellout in 22 home games this season.

Brokers were asking as much as $300 a ticket; for Friday night's game with Chicago the price is up to $1,000.

This for a 36-year-old man who had missed 4 1/2 seasons?

This for a man who was nervous?

"Definitely nervous," Johnson said. "Anybody would be. Probably more because it's been a long time. Everything's like brand new, in a sense. It's almost like my first NBA game."

That night, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar beat the San Diego Clippers with a late hook, and Johnson celebrated by jumping into his arms. There was none of that frenzy Tuesday night.

This time, all Earvin "Magic" Johnson Jr. did was jump back in.

Bulls, 98, Rockets 87. In Houston, Scottie Pippen scored 28 points and the Chicago bench helped overcome a slow start as the Bulls held off Houston for their 16th straight victory.

The win improved the Bulls' record to 39-3, equaling the NBA record for most victories with three losses, set by the Lakers in 1971-72. ()

(For other results, see Scorecard.)