On Thursday, Magic Johnson joined “Jimmy Kimmel Live” to discuss his new docuseries, “They Call Me Magic.” He also told a story about an exchange with Michael Jordan that he said he had never shared before.
The year was 1996, midway through the season and Johnson’s second game back after returning to the NBA full-time five years after his HIV diagnosis. The Lakers’ opponent in Los Angeles that Feb. 2: The Bulls.
Johnson had a respectable 15 points and three assists off the bench that night, but the Bulls won easily, 99-84, led by 30 points from Scottie Pippen and 17 from Jordan.
“They really showed me the difference between a championship team and a playoff team,” Johnson recalled to Kimmel. “They were a championship team, we were just a regular team. And they played me so hard. They were physical, they pushed me around…”
“They roughed you up,” Kimmel said.
“Oh, no question about it,” Johnson replied.
Then he revealed for the first time what Jordan told him after the game.
“Michael, after that game, he pulled me aside — I don’t think I’ve ever told anybody this,” Johnson said. “He met me in between the locker rooms, and he said, ‘Earvin, you have to remember now, you’re not with Kareem [Abdul-Jabbar], you’re not with James Worthy. All the guys you used to play with, Showtime, are not on that Laker team anymore. So remember, maybe you should think about retiring.”
Indeed. The Lakers starting five that night was Nick Van Exel, Eddie Jones, Elden Campbell, Cedric Ceballos and Vlade Divac.
Though Divac and Campbell were on the team when Johnson unexpectedly walked away in Nov. 1991 after announcing his HIV diagnosis, those Lakers also had Worthy, Byron Scott, A.C. Green, a younger Johnson and had reached the NBA Finals the season before. The Bulls — who swept the Lakers in the ’91 Finals — were already well on their way to a fourth NBA Championship in 1996 and what would eventually go on to be their second three-peat.
“What a sick person,” Kimmel said, laughing. “What a sick individual.”
“But he was right,” Johnson responded. “He was right.”
A few months later, the two-time defending NBA champion Rockets bounced the Lakers from the playoffs in the first round, winning the best-of-five series 3-1. Two weeks later, the 36-year-old Johnson took Jordan’s advice and retired for good.