Sports Watch

Bill Kwon

By Bill Kwon

Saturday, February 27, 1999

Johnson hopes Lakers
can recapture their magic

HE'S still Magic.

The people were 20 deep in front of the sports memorabilia store, "Field of Dreams," at Ala Moana Center, waiting patiently for Earvin "Magic" Johnson to finish his interviews with the local media.

As always, Magic said all the right things about his home away from home -- Hawaii.

"It's paradise right here. There's nothing like being in Hawaii. I come here every chance I get. I own a home on Maui," said the 11-time National Basketball Association all-star.

Though now retired and a successful businessman, Johnson still bleeds Los Angeles Lakers' purple and gold. The Lakers are still "us" or "we" in his conversations. Of course, he's still with the Lakers' front office. "And I'll be as long as Dr. (Jerry) Buss is," Johnson said.

So naturally, the main topic dealt with his team's recent notoriety, especially the firing of coach Del Harris and the signing of Dennis Rodman, who made his Lakers' debut last night at the Forum against the Los Angeles Clippers.

Johnson wasn't surprised that Harris got the ax.

"We were more surprised that we were 6-6 (at the time). The team wasn't performing to its potential and when a team doesn't perform to its potential, the coach is always the first to go."

AS for Rodman, Johnson is glad "The Worm" is on board.

"Dennis brings a lot to the table. He's a great defensive player, one of the greatest rebounders to ever play the game. If he can bring those ingredients, he's going to make us a better team," Johnson said. "We're just hoping that's the Dennis we get."

As for the unpredictable Rodman being a possible distraction, Johnson admitted it was in the back of the minds of the Lakers' management.

"Dennis is going to be Dennis. Nobody is going to stop him from doing that," Johnson said. "But I'm hoping he'll give us the energy and the rebounding like he did for the Bulls. Also he's a champion. He's got five rings. He can teach our young guys how to win."

The only reservation Johnson had about the whole Rodman situation was the ex-Bull's delay in signing.

"He made it a circus. It was a distraction to our coach and our team," Johnson said. "Who knows? If he had signed sooner, we might not have lost three straight and Del might not have been fired."

Johnson thinks Kurt Rambis will do fine as Harris' successor.

"He knows the guys. He's been with them for long time," Johnson said. "But now, the players will have to respond. You can only blame the coach for so much."

OHNSON thinks the Lakers will be among the contending teams for the playoffs, which will bring back the fans despite the NBA strike and the retirement of Michael Jordan.

"The one good thing about Jordan retiring is that the playoffs now are going to be exciting. You don't know who is going to win. It's not just Jordan and the Bulls now. All they had to do was show their rings," Johnson said.

"The strike hurt, but the playoffs will make up for it."

One of the casualties of the NBA strike was the canceling of the Lakers' training camp at the University of Hawaii.

"We'll back for sure. The guys enjoy training here and Dr. Buss and I love it here. Besides, the Lakers are Hawaii's team," Johnson said.

He hopes that the new Lakers with Rodman will do what the old Lakers did -- win NBA championships.

And, no, Magic won't be coming out of retirement again to help the Lakers accomplish that.

"I enjoyed my 12-year run. It was unbelievable. But I now enjoy my business life. I got a lot going with all the companies I own," he said. "And I can come back here as often as I want."

Bill Kwon has been writing
about sports for the Star-Bulletin since 1959.

E-mail to Sports Editor

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