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PRESTO, CHANGE-O, MAGIC QUITS AGAIN

Magic Johnson said after the Los Angeles Lakers were eliminated from the NBA playoffs that he didn't want to go out on a losing note. As has often been the case, he changed his mind.

Perhaps it was because he discovered he wasn't the dominant player he used to be and that his young teammates didn't necessarily see eye-to-eye with him.After failing to lead the Los Angeles Lakers out of the first round of the playoffs, much less to a championship, Johnson announced Tuesday his playing career is over.

Again.

In what turned out to be his final NBA game - barring another change of direction - Johnson had only eight points in 30 minutes and sat out much of the fourth quarter as the Lakers lost to the Houston Rockets 102-94 on May 2.

"I was satisfied with my return to the NBA, although I would have hoped we would have gone further into the playoffs," Johnson said in a statement issued by his agent, Lon Rosen. "But now, I am ready to give it up. It's time to move on.

"I am going out on my terms, something I couldn't say when I aborted a comeback in 1992."

Johnson, who turns 37 in August and would have been a free agent on July 1, first retired just before the start of the 1991-92 season after learning he had tested positive for the virus that causes AIDS.

Johnson decided to make a comeback before the 1992-93 season but quit again during the exhibition season after several players expressed concerns about playing with him for health reasons.

After considering a comeback on several occasions since that time, Johnson finally returned on Jan. 29. He played in 32 games, helping the Lakers to a 53-29 record and the fourth seed in the Western Conference.

However, they were eliminated by the two-time defending NBA champion Rockets 3-1 in a best-of-5 first-round playoff series.

"I don't know what I'm going to do," Johnson said a day after the Lakers were eliminated by the Rockets, who were seeded fifth in the West and were swept by Seattle in the second round of the playoffs. "As of today, I want to play next year. I can't go out like this, I don't want to. This is not my style, this is not what I came back for."

For whatever reason, things changed in the ensuing 10 days. Rosen said emphatically that Johnson's decision to retire again "has nothing to do with his health."

The announcement by the three-time NBA Most Valuable Player, who led the Lakers to five NBA championships in the 1980s, surprised the team, which was given no advance warning of the move.

"From the time he came to this team almost 17 years ago, Earvin Johnson has been a very special part of our lives," Lakers executive vice president of basketball operations Jerry West said in a statement.

"While this is a sad day, it's one that we always knew would come, and I would rather look at it remembering all the great moments he brought to this team and our fans. Obviously, we wish him the best in his future endeavors, and will look forward to having him around as he was the past 41/2 years before his comeback."

As West said, Johnson never really left the Lakers. He coached the team for the final 16 games of the 1993-94 season, going 5-11, and purchased a 5 percent ownership interest on June 27, 1994. He sold that interest back to owner Jerry Buss before returning as a player.

"We want what is best for Magic," Buss said in a statement. "We supported him in his return, and we support him again in his retirement. Despite the disappointment he and our organization felt during the playoffs, the special relationship Earvin continued to have with fans everywhere, myself included, had to make this past season a rewarding one for him."

Johnson averaged 14.6 points, 6.9 assists and 5.7 rebounds in his 32 games this season, 20 of them Lakers wins. After coming back, he was hampered by a calf injury that caused him to miss some playing time.

While he was dominant at times, he looked his age at other times. Nevertheless, he termed his comeback a success.

"The support generated throughout the league and from fans worldwide was tremendous, and I want to thank everyone," Johnson said in his statement. "I also want to thank all Laker fans and the entire Laker organization, who has continually supported me.

"This team has a great future, and I will be excited to sit courtside and root them on to a championship very soon. In announcing this decision now, I wanted to give the Lakers every advantage in planning their future and securing one of the much-talked about free agents this summer."