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Now Magic says that when Abdul-Jabbar retires after the 1985-86 season and the Lakers need his points, there will be more nights like the one of the sixth game in Philadelphia five years ago. "There are going to be a lot of surprised people," he says. "Right now it's important for me to be in control of our team. I enjoy my role, but it's tough because you always want to be known for all the things you can do. That time will come."
It had better come soon or there may be nothing left of him. So physically demanding is Johnson's ball-handling role in the Lakers' fast-break offense that last season he wore off 15 pounds. "There are times now he'll come to practice and I can see it's killing him," says Cooper. Incredibly, even the fabulous invalid himself is convinced he is now nearer the end of his career than the start of it. "I'm not going to be out here that long," he says. "I think with the style we play, I have about five more good years. I'll still be young then, but mind-and bodywise, I'll be an old man." And when he retires? "I'm going to take that big monkey off my back, and say to someone else, 'O.K., young fella, it's yours now.' "
In his dotage, Magic has moved closer to settling down with his girl friend of seven years, the lovely Cookie Kelley, a department-store manager in Toledo. (If it is too early to predict a lifetime of marital bliss for Cookie and Magic, at the very least there is a fast-food franchise somewhere in those names.) Until that time comes, however, he keeps his eye on some of L.A.'s most beautiful women. And both hands on the wheel.
"My car was in the shop one day last year," says Forum promotions director Lon Rosen. "So while it was being fixed Earvin let me drive his Mercedes. I was driving around doing some errands, when suddenly something under the hood exploded. I called him up and said, 'Earvin, I've got bad news. Your car blew up.'
"He said, 'Were you able to save the phone number that was in the glove compartment?'
"I said, 'Earvin, listen to me. Your $40,000 car is sitting in the middle of the street. It's toast.' But he said to forget the car, that he'd have somebody pick it up later. All he kept asking me was, 'Did you save that number?' "
Well, so much for the new maturity. But as the Lakers draw closer to another shot at the championship, Johnson has begun to burn with the intensity of, well, a hot Mercedes. "He's so aggressive now that it's become like a physical thing on the court," says Cooper. "Now if you do something, instead of high-fiving, he might come over and just bump you real hard. I'm sure people might see that and think he wants to fight, but to me that's a love tap."
Hurry back, Boston. Magic Johnson is tap-tap-tapping outside your door, all alone and just dancing in the dark.