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10 Months Before Kobe Bryant’s Debut, Magic Johnson Almost Registered a Triple-Double Against the Warriors in His Final Comeback

Hitesh Nigam

10 Months Before Kobe Bryant's Debut, Magic Johnson Almost Registered a Triple-Double Against the Warriors in His Final Comeback

It was the evening of January 30, 1996, and the Great Western Forum shook with the chants of a name that was the face of Los Angeles at the time. Magic Johnson was returning to the NBA, coming off the bench, just as the Golden State Warriors finished their free throws. Amidst standing ovations and an ecstatic crowd that had waited almost five years for his return, the Magic dropped a scenic near triple-double with a stat line of 19-10-8.

The LA Lakers legend retired in 1991 after being diagnosed with HIV and could not play because of various reasons, including resistance from fellow players. Lack of awareness was one of the major factors behind these protests, which, fortunately, slowly subsided with time, resulting in his return in 1996.

With time, people in the USA began discussing and talking about HIV and AIDS, resulting in a more holistic acceptance. The book, ‘When the Game Was Ours’ by Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, correctly delineates, “Fears about HIV had subsided considerably, and prevention and treatment of the disease were part of the daily conversation in America.”

All this gave the three-time NBA MVP confidence to return to his fans and his love, the basketball court, “This time he felt certain that he could resume playing the game he loved without any further static regarding his condition.” And this time, Magic came with a different role, of a power forward, and he executed that to near perfection, in a classic Magic Johnson way.

Even though “He [Magic] was 27 pounds heavier, less mobile, and no longer an MVP candidate, but his court vision and his unabashed enthusiasm for the game were still unparalleled.” With an almost triple-double, Magic was certainly the hero of the night. Interestingly, all this was just 10 months before the debut of another legend of the same franchise, Kobe Bryant.

However, later in 1996, Magic announced his second and final retirement from the league and that would mean that the two greats could never play together.

Johnson went a long way in spreading awareness about HIV in America. There will unfortunately always be somewhat of a stigma attached to the disease. However, those who have been affected are no longer ostracized by society. Magic went a long way in returning that dignity to the people.

Karl Malone once betrayed Magic Johnson by revealing his HIV

After Magic Johnson opted out of the league in 1991, the NBA world went haywire. He was at his prime with three MVP titles and five NBA championships for the Lakers. In a press conference, Magic announced that his family was safe and he wanted to retire and battle the disease.

However, in early 2023, the Billionaire, while on the ‘Club Shay Shay’ podcast, revealed that he felt betrayed by his fellow teammates, especially Karl Malone. Magic said,

“The same people that used to give you the dab and a love, hug, they weren’t there. Especially, Karl Malone, he came out publicly with it. I just played with you on the Dream team and practiced with you every single day, and now you don’t want to play against me. You could have just said that to me.”

At such low times, the only thing an athlete can expect is support from their family and fellow teammates. However, Malone was firm with his take and later, even claimed that Magic’s return to the league was a threat to the younger generation.

About the author

Hitesh Nigam

Hitesh Nigam


Hitesh Nigam is an NBA Editor at The SportsRush. As a Post-graduate in Journalism and an enthusiastic sports lover, Nigam combines his skills to chunk out informative and interesting content. He found his love in Basketball as a schoolboy after witnessing the greatness of LBJ. As a State-level Basketball player, Nigam is well aware of the on-field intricacies. He is a hardcore LA Lakers fan and loves the playstyle of their SG, Austin Reaves. Apart from NBA, Nigam loves watching and analyzing NFL matches.

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