SPRINGFIELD, Mass. -- A few years later than he wanted, Magic Johnson is in position to join friend and rival Larry Bird in the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Johnson, unable to persuade the hall to waive its five-year retirement requirement so he could enter alongside Bird in 1998, was nominated for induction Wednesday in his first year of eligibility.
Johnson, who led the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA championships, was nominated along with 13 other players and coaches and the Harlem Globetrotters.
''He's an obvious choice to me or anybody else that follows the game,'' said Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. ''It's a formality, another jewel in his career.''
There are so few doubts about the outcome of the Honors Committee vote that, in a break with tradition, the Hall of Fame is announcing its inductees in June in Los Angeles, where Johnson spent his entire 13-year pro career.
In his rookie season with the Lakers, Johnson seized control of Game 6 of the 1980 NBA Finals against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Starting at center for the injured Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and playing all five positions during the game, Johnson had 42 points, 15 rebounds and seven assists, leading the Lakers to the first of five titles during the decade.
At 21, Johnson became the first rookie to be selected Finals MVP.
The Lakers also won titles in 1982, '85, '87, and '88, and Johnson was the league MVP in 1987, '89 and '90. He and Bird squared off three times in the NBA Finals during the 1980s in a rivalry that ignited fan interest and transformed pro basketball.
Johnson left the NBA after the 1990-91 season following a stunning announcement that he had HIV. He returned to help the United States win Olympic gold in 1992 and returned to the NBA in the 1994-95 season, surpassing the 10,000 assist plateau.
Johnson hoped to enter the Hall of Fame with Bird, who was inducted in 1998. He even asked the Hall to waive its rule requiring players be retired five years before induction.
''When he was young he wasn't a great shooter, his gift was passing and creating a type of up-and-down game that was fun to watch,'' Kupchak said. ''But he kept working on it -- he was always working on his game -- and became an excellent shooter. Toward the end there was nothing that he couldn't do.''
The other players nominated are Portland coach and former 76ers guard Maurice Cheeks; scoring star Adrian Dantley; defensive ace Bobby Jones; seven-time All-Star Chet Walker, who played with the Chicago Bulls and 76ers; and James Worthy of the Lakers, one of the game's greatest fast-break finishers.
Nominees need 18 of 24 votes from the Honors Committee for induction.
The coaches nominated are Larry Brown, who won an NCAA championship at Kansas and last season led Philadelphia to the NBA Finals; Lefty Driesell, the fourth-winningest coach in NCAA Division I history with 782 victories in a 40-year coaching career; Lute Olson, who led Arizona to the 1997 NCAA championship; and Eddie Sutton, now at Oklahoma State.
Bill Sharman, inducted as a player in 1976, is now proposed as a coach. He guided the Lakers to the 1972 NBA crown and also won championships in the ABL with the Cleveland Pipers (1962) and the ABA with the Utah Stars (1971).
Phoenix Suns CEO Jerry Colangelo; college and professional coach Tex Winter; and wheelchair basketball pioneer Junius Kellogg were nominated as contributors, as were the Globetrotters.
Earl Lloyd, the first black player in the NBA, was nominated by the Veterans Committee, along with college coach Forrest Anderson, and contributor Grady Lewis.
Cathy Rush, whose three national championships at Immaculata College in the 1970s brought national attention and scholarship money to women's college basketball; North Carolina State coach Kay Yow; and Harley Redin of Wayland Baptist were proposed by the Women's Committee. Players Dino Meneghin and Drazen Petrovic and coach Pedro Ferrandiz were nominated by the International Committee.
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