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25 years ago: Magic Johnson says, ‘Don’t count me out for Olympics,’ after HIV

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On Nov. 7, 1991, Magic Johnson told the world he was HIV positive and that he was retiring from the Los Angeles Lakers, but Johnson did not mention the Olympics in that tear-filled press conference room.

Reports at the time assumed Johnson would be off the Dream Team, citing Lakers team physician Dr. Michael Mellman saying he shouldn’t participate.

USA Basketball said it had not heard from Johnson before the announcement or in the first few days afterward.

But a week later, Johnson urged Sports Illustrated readers not to close the book on his basketball career. The Barcelona Olympics eight months later meant that much to him:

“Don’t count me out for the ’92 Olympics in July,” Johnson wrote in the Nov. 18, 1991, magazine issue, whose contents were published by media Nov. 12. “If I’m healthy, I might very well be on the floor for the opening tap in Barcelona. I agreed to play in the Olympics because I wanted to be there for my country, something I’d never been able to do before. I wanted to play on the same team as Michael [Jordan] and Larry [Bird], something that would give me the kind of high that … man! I get goose bumps just thinking about what it would be like to be on the floor with those guys.

And I want to bring back the gold medal. I’ve accomplished everything in this game — from a team perspective and individually. I’ve won championships in high school, college and the pros. And I’ve won every major award there is. But I don’t have an Olympic gold medal. I want it. God willing, I’ll get it.”

On that same Tuesday, five days after Johnson’s HIV announcement, USA Basketball said it would “be happy to have him” remain on the roster if doctors cleared him.

“We’ve been given some indication today that he’s going to keep that option open,” then-USA Basketball president Dave Gavitt said, according to The Associated Press, saying that the information came to him “third-hand,” rather than from Johnson himself.

Johnson had been the first player named to the Dream Team as part of a 10-player announcement on NBC on Sept. 21. Two more players to complete the 12-man roster would be named later, at least one of which being a collegian.

After Johnson’s HIV announcement, media speculated that Johnson could be replaced on the Dream Team by longtime friend Isiah Thomas, the glaring omission from the initial 10-player list. Thomas’ coach on the Detroit Pistons, Chuck Daly, would be the Dream Team coach.

But USA Basketball said that any potential replacement would not be named until April 1992.

“All of this is very premature,” selection committee chairman C.M. Newton said, according to the AP. “We’ve not talked to Earvin or to his doctor or anybody. … As far as we’re concerned, he’s still part of the Olympic team.”

We know the rest of the story. Johnson made his return to the court at the All-Star Game on Feb. 9, 1992, taking MVP honors. He remained on the Olympic team, despite some opposition, notably from the Australians.

“It was therapy for me,” Johnson said in a 2012 NBA TV documentary. “I needed that in the worst way.”

MORE: Five Olympic questions with Larry Bird

Diana Taurasi opens door for 2020 Olympics

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Diana Taurasi may not be done with the U.S. national team after all.

The four-time Olympic champion “hopes to play through the 2020 Summer Games,” according to ESPN.com.

Taurasi, 34, said playing at Tokyo 2020 “would be incredible” after speaking with U.S. women’s national team director Carol Callan about her Team USA future earlier this month, according to the Arizona Republic. Taurasi recently signed a multiyear extension with the WNBA’s Phoenix Mercury, though the exact contract length wasn’t disclosed.

“It would be probably the biggest accomplishment if I can make it to five Olympics, but that’s so far down the road,” Taurasi said, according to the newspaper. “I’ve always said I’m really worried about these next couple of months with Phoenix then I’ll regroup and talk to USA Basketball again.

“There’s so many great young player that if it’s time to move on and go that direction, that’s great. If they want me to around to help and win another gold medal, I’ll do anything they want me to do.”

New U.S. coach Dawn Staley, an Olympic teammate of Taurasi’s in 2004, said in March that her gut feeling was that Taurasi would return for Tokyo 2020.

Taurasi said in August, right after the Rio final, that she had likely played her last Olympic game, ending her career 32-0 at the Olympics.

“This was probably my last one,” Taurasi said on NBCSN. “I’ll have a talk about it with coach, but, for right now, I’m settled with four, and I feel good about it.”

If Taurasi plays at Tokyo 2020, she can match Teresa Edwards‘ American record of playing in five Olympic basketball tournaments. (So can Sue Bird, who is two years older than Taurasi but hasn’t committed to a 2020 run.)

Taurasi can also take aim at the U.S. Olympic basketball scoring record of 488 points held by Lisa Leslie. Taurasi is in second place with 379 points after Rio. She would need to average 13.7 points per game to surpass Leslie in Tokyo, assuming the U.S. plays its usual eight games. Taurasi averaged a career-high 15.6 in Rio.

Taurasi will be 38 years old in 2020. The oldest U.S. Olympic basketball player of all time was Tamika Catchings, who turned 37 two weeks before the Rio Games. Catchings has retired.

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MORE: Dawn Staley to coach U.S. women at Tokyo 2020

Julia Mancuso pushes past hip injury for final Olympic run

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When Julia Mancuso was 18 years old, a doctor told the ski racer that she needed to make a choice.

Continue competing (Mancuso had already been to an Olympics at age 17) or live a healthy life.

Mancuso was born with hip displaysia, a misalignment of hip bones that causes the joint to deteriorate faster than normal. The doctor told Mancuso she needed reconstructive surgery.

“I left crying and never went back to that doctor,” she said.

Mancuso went to the slopes instead.

In 15 years since that doctor’s visit, she put together one of the greatest Alpine careers in U.S. history — four Olympic medals (most by a U.S. female skier), five world championships medals and 36 World Cup podiums.

The right hip problems persisted. Mancuso did undergo hip surgery after her breakthrough Olympic giant slalom title in 2006.

The pain returned and, by 2015, became unbearable.

She underwent another hip surgery, this one much more complicated. The operation fixed cartilage damage, cleaned up bone spurs and put more anchors in her labrum because of a slight tear with doctors warning that her hip would probably be 90 percent of what it was, according to The Associated Press.

Mancuso spent six months on crutches. When she returns to the World Cup circuit this fall, Mancuso will have gone more than two and a half years between races.

“It’s really hard for me to walk normally,” Mancuso said last month. “A lot of people ask me why I’m doing it [skiing], because I can’t even walk. Why would I ski? The truth is, skiing is way easier. Skiing is fun because it is easy, and my body loves it. My body loves to ski, and my body needs to ski. … It improves my quality of life.”

Because of her hip, Mancuso said PyeongChang will be her fifth and final Olympics, should she make it there. She might not compete beyond next season.

The U.S. women’s speed team is deep — Lindsey Vonn, World Cup podium finishers Laurenne Ross, Jackie Wiles and Stacey Cook, the young Breezy Johnson. Even Mikaela Shiffrin dabbles. A maximum of four women per nation can start an Olympic race.

The super combined, where Mancuso earned silver and bronze medals at the last two Olympics, appears to be her best shot.

Mancuso is nothing if not dedicated, evidenced by Instagram Stories workout diaries. This complements her laid-back lifestyle, spending half her time in Fiji with her husband of five months and much of the other half in Maui.

She already has post-PyeongChang plans, to honeymoon in Tonga and dive with whales.

Before that, Mancuso hopes to have one more surprise Olympic season.

In 2006, she made her first World Cup podium two weeks before the Torino Winter Games, then won the giant slalom in Torino.

In 2010, she took silver in the Vancouver downhill and super combined despite making zero World Cup podiums in the previous two years.

In 2014, Mancuso snagged combined bronze thanks to the fastest downhill run in Sochi. That came during a season where her best World Cup finish was seventh.

Just making the Olympic team would mean history. No U.S. woman has competed in five Winter Games. Mancuso, halfpipe snowboarder Kelly Clark and cross-country skier Kikkan Randall can become the first.

Mancuso could also become the oldest female Olympic Alpine medalist.

“I’m excited to put my biggest and last effort into these next Olympics,” Mancuso said, “and then see what happens.”

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