Ask most basketball fans about a random NBA All-Star Game and they likely won’t remember too many things. Ask someone about the 1992 NBA All-Star Game and the conversation changes for one reason: Magic Johnson.
February 9, 1992, was one of the most emotional games in NBA history. No, the NBA All-Star Game doesn’t mean anything as it pertains to the standings. It’s just an exhibition game, right? But the 1992 contest meant everything to Magic Johnson.
Magic Johnson retires from the NBA due to HIV
On November 7, 1991, Magic Johnson held an emotional press conference and told the world that he had obtained the HIV virus, the virus that causes AIDS, and that he would have to immediately retire from the Los Angeles Lakers. The basketball world, the world as a whole really, was in absolute shock. At that time, being HIV-positive was looked at as a death sentence as not nearly enough research had been done. Magic Johnson was determined to change that, which he did. He brought more attention to the disease than anyone ever had and the world truly owes him a debt of gratitude for doing the things he’s done throughout the years.
While bringing attention to HIV and AIDS is obviously much more important, the fact that Magic Johnson was out of the NBA was a huge deal. He was one of the biggest stars the game had ever seen and played a major part in changing the entire landscape of the league. In 12 NBA seasons, Magic won five championships, was voted the NBA MVP three times and was an 11-time All-Star. Little did he know that selection number 12 was coming.
The fans voted Magic in but not everyone was happy about it
Despite not playing a single game for the Lakers, the fans still voted Magic Johnson into the 1992 NBA All-Star Game, longing for one more game from one of the most beloved figures in league history. The NBA allowed this to happen but not everyone was thrilled with the idea of playing alongside someone with HIV. The most notable player to speak out against Johnson suiting up was his Western Conference teammate, Utah Jazz star forward Karl Malone.
But people wanted this to happen and Magic’s longtime friend, Isiah Thomas, made sure that it did. Thomas held a meeting with the players and the result was that Magic Johnson would indeed be on the floor in Orlando. In a wonderful gesture, Tim Hardaway gave up his starting spot on the West squad so that Johnson could be on the floor for the opening tip-off.
Magic wins MVP
The story that unfolded at the 1992 NBA All-Star Game was like a fairytale. During pregame introductions, the crowd gave Magic a standing ovation that just seemed to go on and on and on. But the other players still didn’t quite know how to react. Again, Isiah Thomas stepped in and eased the tension, running over and embracing his friend. And then, forgive the pun that’s coming, the real magic began.
The NBA All-Star Game always features some great rosters but the 1992 contest was spectacular. Unfortunately, Larry Bird couldn’t play due to injury but, including him, the rosters included all 11 players that would later that year make up the Dream Team at the Barcelona Olympics.
Magic was brilliant that night in Orlando. The Western Conference dominated the game with double-digit efforts from eight players, including Magic. They led by 13 after the first quarter, increased the lead to 24 at halftime, and held a 32-point advantage heading to the fourth. With the outcome decided, the stage was set for an emotional finish.
The final 90 seconds were incredible. On defense, Magic faced both Michael Jordan and Isiah Thomas in one-on-one situations as the rest of the players cleared out. Neither scored on him. And on the last possession of the game, with Isiah Thomas guarding him, Magic launched a three-pointer that found the bottom of the net and the place went wild. Fading away from the basket, Magic pumped his fist and was then mobbed. There were still a few seconds on the clock but it didn’t matter. The rest of the players wanted to get in on what had just transpired and it was absolutely beautiful.
Johnson led all scorers with 25 points, shooting 9-for-12 from the floor and a perfect 3-for-3 from beyond the arc. He also dished out nine assists and was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Magic Johnson would suit up for the Dream Team that summer and made a small comeback with the Lakers in 1996. Neither of those things happen without the 1992 NBA All-Star Game. It proved that, even with HIV, he could still get out there and play the game he loves. It was an iconic performance and easily one of the best moments in NBA history.