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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

World champion wins doping case citing bodily fluids from boyfriend

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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — A world champion canoeist won a doping case Monday after persuading a tribunal that her positive test was caused by bodily fluid contamination from her boyfriend.

The International Canoe Federation (ICF) ended its investigation into 11-time world champion Laurence Vincent Lapointe, who tested positive for a steroid-like substance in July. She faced a four-year ban and could have missed her event’s Olympic debut at the Tokyo Games.

The Canadian canoe sprint racer and her lawyer detailed in a news program that laboratory analysis of hair from her then-boyfriend showed he was likely responsible for a tiny presence of ligandrol in her doping sample.

“The ICF has accepted Ms. Vincent Lapointe’s evidence which supports that she was the victim of third-party contamination,” the governing body said in a statement, clearing her to return to competition.

The legal debate is similar to tennis player Richard Gasquet’s 2009 acquittal in the “cocaine kiss” case. The Court of Arbitration for Sport accepted Gasquet’s defense that kissing a woman who had taken cocaine in a Miami nightclub, after he had withdrawn injured from a tournament, caused his positive test.

The 27-year-old Vincent Lapointe was provisionally suspended for almost six months and missed the 2019 World Championships, which was a key qualifying event for the Tokyo Olympics. American 17-year-old Nevin Harrison won the 200m world title in her absence.

She can still qualify for the Olympic debut of women’s canoe sprint events with victory at a World Cup event in May in Germany.

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U.S. women’s soccer team begins Olympic qualifying, which should rest on one match

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The U.S. women’s soccer team has never been in danger in Olympic qualifying, but that doesn’t change this fact: It must win on Feb. 7 to reach the Tokyo Games.

The CONCACAF tournament begins Tuesday in Houston, where the world champion Americans face world No. 72 Haiti. The last two group games are against No. 68 Panama on Friday and No. 37 Costa Rica on Feb. 3. The top two nations from the group advance to Feb. 7 semifinals.

The U.S. roster, with 18 of its 20 players coming from the 2019 World Cup team, is here.

Since CONCACAF qualifies two nations to the Olympics, the semifinals are the deciding games.

Should the U.S. win its group, it would face the runner-up from the other group in a winner-goes-to-Tokyo match. The other group (world ranking):

Canada (8)
Mexico (37)
Jamaica (53)
St. Kitts and Nevis (127)

Chaos could result in the unlikely event that either the U.S. or Canada finishes second in its group, and the two North American powers play a semifinal.

The U.S. is undefeated in Olympic qualifying history, since the tournament format began in 2004 — 15-0 with a goal differential of 88-1 (not counting matches played once they’ve already clinched qualification). The lone goal allowed came in a group-stage match in 2008, when the U.S. was already assured a spot in the semifinals.

Still, the U.S. knows the feeling of one poor outing in an important match. In 2010, it lost to Mexico in a winner-to-the-World Cup match. The U.S. was forced to win a last-chance, home-and-home playoff against a UEFA team — Italy — for the last spot in the World Cup.

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