As Magic Johnson sat at the Wachovia Center press table watching the 76ers defeat the New Jersey Nets Wednesday night, he admitted this was not the Philadelphia he remembered. He was in town primarily to be a guest speaker Thursday at Penn's Wharton School, discussing the social impact of business. But in a conversation at halftime of what became a 108-97 Sixers victory, the former Los Angeles Lakers star touched on a variety of subjects.
On the 24-44 Sixers:
"It's disheartening . . . I can really talk about the Sixers, remembering Dr. J (Julius Erving) was my hero, my idol, and to come here and hear 'Zink' (Dave Zinkoff, the late, great public address announcer) annouince us, how (the late, great Grover Washington Jr.) was playing his horn, and seeing the place (the Spectrum) just packed. To look at it now, and the team is not perfoprming well . . . this city deserves a winner, because I've seen it when it was crazy over basketball. I (was) involved in those three (Finals, in 1980, '82 and '83). The city was just on fire.
''One thing we do know is, that if they do provide a winner, the people will come out and support it. It's a rabid basketball (city). Look at what they do in college; I watch Villanova games, and they sell out. You watch all the other teams as well; college basketball is big here, high school basketball is big here. Now, it's time for the pros to get back to being good again. It only helps everybody.''
On Sixers coach Eddie Jordan, a onetime teammate with the Lakers:
'He's a good guy; he's a good man, a proven coach. It's too bad it's happening (this way).''
On Sixers rookie guard Jrue Holiday, who played high school ball in the Los Angeles area and one season with UCLA:
''His mother (Toya) coaches my daughter at Campbell Hall. Sometimes it's a blessing that so many guys got hurt that he got his opporetunity to show what he can do. I think he's going to be a really good player.''
On Tiger Woods' return to golf:
''I'm glad he's back. I think he should be back. Look, you have to apologize first to your wife and kids; he did that, I'm sure. Then you apologize to the sponsors and fans. Then you move on. You can't live in the past. You've got to get out bthere and do what you do. He's a golfer, the wolrld's best, so get out there and do (your) thing.
''I'm happy he's back, because I haven't watched (golf) since he left. So, come on back. I'm ready for Tiger to come back; I'm happy he's back. I bet all those golfers are happy he's back, because it brings more attention to them, because he brings so much. I don't play golf, but I watch because of Tiger, and I've watched ever since he came in.
''I watched just before he turned pro. He came down to a basketball game (actor) Kevin Costner had, I think for his 50th (birthday), and Tiger was one of the guys. That was where I first met him. He was a nice young man then, he's a nice young man now. He made some mistakes. You say 'Sorry,' and you move on.''
On The State Of The NBA:
'You need rivalries. I love Philly vs. Boston. I love the dislike. I love Detroit vs. Chicago. (Those games would be on and) you'd say 'What time? I'm not doing (anything else). Nobody can bother me.' You knew it was going to be a game, like the Lakers vs. Boston.
''People bought in to the rivalries. That's how the NFL is so special; when Philly plays Dallas or the New York Giants, you know it's going to be tough, hard-nosed football. We need that back in our game, because that's what grew our game.
''(But) the young players don't want to hear about yesterday. They want to do it their way. But they've got to give the fans a good product. The fans respect everybody if you play hard every single night.''