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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

Yuzuru Hanyu opens Olympic season with record score

Yuzuru Hanyu
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A sore knee didn’t hold Yuzuru Hanyu back. A record score to open his Olympic season.

The Olympic and world champion from Japan hit a pair of quadruple jumps in his short program at the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Montreal.

He was rewarded with 112.72 points, the highest short program score recorded under the 13-year-old judging system. Video is here.

It looked like a home competition for Hanyu.

Upon finishing, he bowed toward one set of bleachers (maybe a dozen rows) at the Sportsplexe Pierrefonds. More than two dozen Japanese flags made it hard to see most of the faces.

He bettered Javier Fernández, a two-time world champion and training partner, by 11.52 points. Fernández also landed two quadruple jumps to tally 101.2.

Full scores will be here upon the conclusion of the short program. The free skate is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream is here.

Hanyu now owns the three highest short program scores under the 13-year-old system. The other two were set in the 2015-16 season.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November.

Hanyu and Fernández are very familiar with each other, having shared a coach in Canadian Brian Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, since 2012. They train in Toronto.

In that time, Hanyu became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic title (and the second teen from any nation to do it). He followed it up with world titles later in 2014 and this year.

Fernández achieved unfathomable success for a Spanish skater — world titles in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu in the free skate both times.

In PyeongChang, Hanyu can become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952. Fernández can become the third Spaniard to earn a Winter Olympic medal of any color in any sport, and the first since 1992.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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USOC letter assures Olympians about South Korea security

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The U.S. Olympic Committee’s security chief sent a letter to potential Winter Olympians saying there are no indications that recent developments between the U.S. and North Korea have compromised security in South Korea.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press shortly after it was sent Friday, makes no suggestion that the U.S. is considering skipping the PyeongChang Winter Games for security reasons.

But Chief Security Officer Nicole Deal does write that provocations that have been volleyed between the United States and North Korea are likely to persist for the foreseeable future, and “should not be dismissed as insignificant nor feared as precursors of an inevitable conflict.”

The letter comes at the end of a week in which France’s sports minister suggested the country’s athletes would stay home if security could not be guaranteed.

The International Olympic Committee, trying to calm concerns, reiterated that in conversations with high-level officials in China and South Korea, none have expressed doubt about the Winter Games proceeding as scheduled, next February.

The USOC also sent out a public statement Friday from CEO Scott Blackmun.

“We will continue to work with our State Department and local organizers to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe,” he said.

The letter, sent to athletes, national governing bodies and other Olympic leaders in the United States, said the USOC’s security division is operating as “business as usual for our security planning and preparations.”

Deal writes that the USOC is reviewing crisis management plans that address a range of potential scenarios “to ensure our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe.”

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