Two seasons ago, when the Los Angeles Lakers won the National Basketball Association championship, everything was sweetness and light. Now, the same player who helped make things that way finds his presence causing problems.
Ebullient Magic Johnson, the do-everything rookie and 1980 playoff MVP, may have stolen too much of the limelight to suit some teammates. Guard Norm Nixon, an outstanding player in his own right, has let people know he isn't happy playing in Johnson's shadow.
To make matters worse, the club recently rewarded Magic with a $25 million, 25-year contract, a deal that clearly signaled how much of a favorite he is with ownership. In fact, millionaire owner Jerry Buss said the contract was intended to pave the way for Magic's eventual move into the front office.
Johnson is a genuinely likeable, fun-loving person, and it's easy to see why Buss is fond of the young star. In some ways, though, the two may have become too close for the good of the team. "A basketball team is much like a family," said Laker center Kareem Abdul- Jabbar, "and when one member has been singled out, oftentimes other people in that family can become jealous."
Despite being a good friend of Johnson's, Kareem apparently became concerned about recent developments involving Magic and asked to be traded. Some players wondered how a player practically designated a managerial trainee could be disciplined if the need arose.
When the club explained that Johnson was a player first and a part of management only after he retires, Abdul-Jabbar said he looked forward to staying with the Lakers. Buss also perhaps appeased the seven-footer with the news he would offer to raise his salary to $1.5 million beginning with the 1983-84 season.