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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

U.S. men’s basketball roster named for FIBA World Cup, includes one Olympian

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Kemba Walker and one player with Olympic experience, Harrison Barnes, headline the U.S. roster for next month’s FIBA World Cup, where the U.S. is still expected to clinch its Tokyo Olympic spot despite an absence of the NBA’s best players and Saturday’s exhibition loss to Australia.

An injured Kyle Kuzma was dropped from the 13 finalists who gathered in Australia for pre-tournament exhibitions. Walker and Khris Middleton are the only two players on the team who were All-Stars last season. The full roster:

Harrison Barnes, Sacramento Kings
Jaylen Brown, Boston Celtics
Joe Harris, Brooklyn Nets
Brook Lopez, Milwaukee Bucks
Khris Middleton, Milwaukee Bucks
Donovan Mitchell, Utah Jazz
Mason Plumlee, Denver Nuggets
Marcus Smart, Boston Celtics
Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Myles Turner, Indiana Pacers
Kemba Walker, Boston Celtics
Derrick White, San Antonio Spurs

The U.S. group play schedule:

Sept. 1 vs. Czech Republic
Sept. 3 vs. Turkey
Sept. 5 vs. Japan

San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich will make his U.S. head coaching tournament debut at the World Cup, succeeding Mike Krzyzewski, who led the Americans to Olympic titles in 2008, 2012 and 2016.

Many notables dropped out before or during this month’s training camp and practices: including Olympians Anthony Davis, James Harden, Kevin Love and Kyle Lowry. Other 2020 Olympic hopefuls such as LeBron James and Stephen Curry withdrew before the camp roster was named.

It has become custom for the World Cup team to include few Olympians. The 2014 roster included two players from the London Olympics (Davis, Harden). The 2010 World Cup team had zero Beijing Olympians.

Saturday’s loss to Australia marked the U.S.’ first defeat with NBA players since the 2006 World Championship, snapping a 78-game win streak.

The U.S. will qualify for the Tokyo Games if it is one of the top two teams from the Americas at the World Cup. There is also a last-chance qualifying tournament next year.

MORE: Carmelo Anthony’s request denied to return to USA Basketball

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Nevin Harrison, 17, becomes first American to win world sprint canoe title

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Nevin Harrison, a 17-year-old from Seattle, became the first American to earn a world championships medal in a sprint canoe event, and it happened to be gold, surprising herself in the 200m in Szeged, Hungary, on Saturday.

Harrison covered the course in 49.30 seconds to win by .44. She crossed the finish line, stopped, looked to the side, held up one finger to question her result, then covered her mouth once she realized it.

Race video is here.

“I have no words right now,” she said upon getting out of the water. “It’s unreal, so much more than I ever thought. … Wow, what a moment.”

Harrison joined Greg Barton as the only Americans to win an individual world title in sprint canoe or kayak. No U.S. woman has earned Olympic gold in any kayak event. The last silver came via Rebecca Giddens in the slalom in 2004.

Women’s canoe debuts at the Tokyo Games. Women’s events were added and men’s events removed to make it equal with eight events per gender in canoe and kayak.

If Harrison can repeat the feat in Tokyo next year, she will become the youngest woman to earn Olympic canoe or kayak gold, breaking the record of legendary German Birgit Fischer-Schmidt, whom some consider the greatest female Olympian in history across all sports with 12 medals and eight golds.

Saturday’s final lacked Canadian six-time 200m world champion Laurence Vincent-Lapointe, who is provisionally suspended after recently testing positive for a banned substance.

MORE: Tonga flag bearer finishes last in sprint kayak debut

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