"We had an account of a saliva-to-sweat exchange that resulted in an AIDS death," says NBA commissioner David Stern. "We had another report of someone getting AIDS through contact in a soccer game. Our doctors kept insisting that it couldn't happen, and, ultimately, that's what we believed. But it was a crazy, crazy time."
Out on the court Magic collides with another player. They go down, shake it off and help each other up. "I swear we don't even think about him having the virus anymore," says O'Bannon. "It never comes up. I wonder if some of the younger players out there even know he has it."
Magic's day began five hours before, with a one-mile jog around UCLA's track. Then he ran stairs for 15 minutes before dashing off three 220s. Then he lifted weights with a trainer for 90 minutes in the UCLA gym. Then he laced 'em up for several full-court go-rounds with the twentysomethings. His six-days-a-week workout plan varies in specifics but rarely in intensity. The next day, for example, he began with the jog, but before the hoops at Pauley, he punished himself at Gold's Gym in Venice, one of the most serious workout facilities in the world.
Magic has added significant muscle since he left the NBA. He was 6'9" and about 235 pounds when he retired, but we recall him just as clearly as a skinny 210-pounder, his weight when he came out of Michigan State as a sophomore at age 19. Now, he's 6'9" and at least 250 pounds. "I'd put Earvin's body age at about 30 or 31, 10 years younger than he is," says Charles Glass, a 47-year-old Gold's trainer. "He has tremendous endurance and strength. He has definition all over, particularly on his triceps and back, musculature you never saw when he was playing."
Magic's Lakers jersey hangs on one wall of Gold's. His presence attracts a few stares and many conversations. "Men our size, men who work out their whole life and then suddenly stop, we tend to blow up," says Magic, grunting and groaning on an abs machine. He ups the weight and adds with a smile, "Like Charles [ Barkley]." A young man comes by, chats and then takes Magic's place on the bench. If he is worried about planting himself in Magic's sweat, he doesn't show it.
By the time Magic finishes his calorie-shedding smorgasbord and heads for the showers, it's almost 1 p.m. He had left his Beverly Hills home and his family of three—wife Cookie; son E.J., 9; and daughter Elisa, 6, adopted in 1995 (Andre, a 20-year-old son from an earlier relationship, lives in an apartment in Beverly Hills)—at 6:15 that morning. "Athletes don't like to get up early," says Magic, "but it never bothered me." After attending a Lakers playoff game that evening, he will not get home until midnight. That's a typical day for him. "I'm used to him being away," says Cookie. "When he first retired, he was sitting home a lot, and that's when he was miserable. He needs to be doing something.
It seems to be something of a Peter Pan existence, the former athlete devoting the first six hours of each day to tuning up his body, but Magic believes he is helping ward off the virus with his physical regimen, and he might be right. "That Magic has created something very positive out of something very negative can't be ruled out as a significant factor in his health," says Eric Daar, a specialist in infectious disease at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and a research colleague of David Ho, the most respected AIDS expert in the U.S. "There is no definitive research on the relationship of psychosocial issues to disease, but most doctors will tell you that patients who don't cope don't do well."
By the time Magic emerges from his shower, the phone messages have piled up. "You're late for a lunch at La Scala," his executive assistant, Anjie Delgardo, tells him. He shakes his head and climbs into his black Bentley. "I'm always late for something."
The offices of Magic Johnson Enterprises are at 9100 Wilshire Boulevard, prime Beverly Hills real estate. When he walks through the door after his lunch at La Scala, an Armani-clad satrap surveying one of his provinces, a snap-to-it energy infuses the place. It is peopled with extraordinarily young, extraordinarily attractive, extraordinarily well-dressed people, nearly all of them African-American. This office is one of the very few places in the world where Magic is " Mr. Johnson." All 25 of his employees know that if they don't produce, they can expect an earful of hell from the boss. An old friend of Magic's has been fired twice, taken back twice and told she'd better not screw up again. There is no written dress code, but the employees understand they have to look professional, which means ties and dress shirts for the men, skirts or business suits for the women. If Mr. Johnson sees a slip in adherence to the dress code, he will inform Nikkole Denson, who manages the office, and she will fire off a memo.
Despite the respect he commands at the office, Magic's success (box, page 77) is at first hard to fathom. He seems to lack-how to put it?—a fundamental seriousness. At worst his demeanor is that of the eager-to-please Rotarian, a man getting by on a handshake and a smile. At best, he's a man who craves affection. There was always a shamelessness about him, an eagerness to stalk the spotlight and fall into that jock proclivity of referring to himself in the third person. That partly explains his disastrous 1998 foray into late-night television, the short-lived The Magic Hour, during which he proved that an extravagant smile, a nice suit and a willingness to suck up to B-list celebrities doth not a talk-show host make.