In 1991, Earvin “Magic” Johnson shocked the world by disclosing his HIV-positive status and announcing his retirement from the NBA. In 2004, ESPN named Johnson’s announcement the seventh most memorable sports moment of the previous 25 years. At the time of his retirement, he held the career record for assists with 9,981. He had just averaged 19.4 points, 12.5 assists and 7.0 rebounds per game for the 1990-91 season and led the Los Angeles Lakers to the NBA Finals, where they lost to Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls. Johnson was selected number one in the 1979 NBA draft and played 12 seasons as the point guard for the Lakers. He won the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award in his rookie season and twice more, as well as another three regular season MVP awards, while collecting five championship rings. After announcing his retirement, Johnson returned to play for the “Dream Team” 1992 United States Men’s Olympic basketball team which won the Olympic gold medal. Johnson returned to the Lakers as head coach for the end of the 1993-94 season. He came back again as a player for another stint with the Lakers in 1996, this time as a power forward. In 2017, after years as a successful businessman, he became president of the team’s basketball operations, stepping down in 2019. Johnson is also known for his HIV and health activism; he founded the Magic Johnson Foundation in 1991 and was the keynote speaker for the United Nations (UN) World AIDS Day Conference in 1999. Johnson was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame for his individual career in 2002 and as a member of the “Dream Team” in 2010.
In 2005, nineteen-year-old Dwight Howard became the youngest player to score 20 points and get 20 rebounds in a single game, while playing for the Orlando Magic against the Charlotte Bobcats. Howard elected to enter the 2004 NBA draft instead of attending college and was selected first overall by the Magic. Howard concluded his rookie season with impressive averages of 12 points and 10 rebounds per game, and was the first NBA player directly out of high school to play in all 82 games. He was named to the 2004-05 All-Rookie Team. In 2005, the NBA instituted a minimum-age policy of 19 and began encouraging young players to participate in its Developmental League, now called the G-League. Howard went on to win three Defensive Player of the Year awards and make eight All-Star teams. He left the Magic to play for the Los Angeles Lakers (2012-13), Houston Rockets (2013-16), Atlanta Hawks (2016-17), Charlotte Hornets (2017-18), and Washington Wizards (2018-9) before returning to the Lakers for their 2019-20 championship season.
In 1977, Walter Payton played one of his most memorable games despite a 101-degree fever. The Chicago Bears beat the Minnesota Vikings 10-7 with Payton running for 275 yards. Payton was selected fourth in the NFL’s 1975 draft by the Chicago Bears. He proved to be a valuable running back, winning the MVP award in 1977 and playing in Super Bowl XX. He played in the Pro Bowl nine times and had the most receptions by a non-receiver and eight career touchdown passes when he retired. Payton, nicknamed “Sweetness,” is remembered for his stutter-step run, a high-stepping, irregularly paced run which he said gave him an advantage over faster players. Payton retired from the NFL in 1987 with 16,726 yards and 110 touchdowns.
In 2015, Kobe Bryant announced his retirement via a poem in the Players’ Tribune. Bryant played 20 years with the Los Angeles Lakers and was the youngest player in league history (at age 34) to reach 30,000 career points. He is the fourth highest-scoring NBA player of all time and won five NBA titles, two Finals MVP Awards and two Olympic gold medals with Team USA. Bryant declared for the 1996 draft after he finished high school, and earned recognition his rookie year by winning the 1997 Slam Dunk Competition. He was the highest scorer in Lakers team history and was chosen to start the All-Star Game for a record 18 consecutive appearances. Bryant is known for his fall-away jump shot and fiercely competitive nature which he referred to as the “mamba mentality.” He is considered one of the greatest players in NBA history and has career averages of 25.0 points, 5.2 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.4 steals per game.
Written by Andrew Bernstein (NBA Photographer) and Veronica An
Andrew Bernstein is the official team photographer for the Lakers and Clippers.