After being forced to an early retirement due to his contraction of the HIV virus, Magic Johnson began some intense workouts to help his fight against the virus. Eventually, Johnson would up his weight to 255 pounds and decided to make a comeback to the Lakers in 1996.
Johnson showed his skill when, in his first NBA game in five years, he nearly recorded a triple-double off the bench with 19 points, 10 assists, and eight rebounds against the Golden State Warriors. Two weeks later, Johnson recorded his 138th, and final, triple-double of his career with 15 points, 10 rebounds, and 13 assists against the Atlanta Hawks.
Things weren’t all great for the Lakers as Cedric Ceballos would leave the team, upset over his diminished role with the team after Johnson returned. Nick Van Exel and Johnson himself were suspended seven and three games respectively, for separate incidents of bumping an official.
Despite all of the distractions, Johnson would average 14.6 points, 6.9 assists, and 5.7 rebounds as a power forward, leading the Lakers to a 22-10 record in his 32 games played. The Lakers would finish 53-29, good for fourth in the Western Conference. Johnson even garnered a few MVP votes, finishing 12th in the balloting. The Lakers would fall to the defending champion Houston Rockets in the first round, three games to one.
With the success experienced by both the team and Johnson himself, he considered the comeback a success and while he considered returning for one more year, ultimately decided to hang his shoes up for good. Johnson truly proved his greatness with this final comeback, and on this Throwback Thursday, we remember Magic Johnson and his final comeback in 1996.
If you have a few extra minutes, relive Johnson’s return game below:
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