Lakers History: How Magic Johnson Nearly Played with Kobe and Shaq in 1997

The 1996-97 NBA season for the Los Angeles Lakers is perhaps notorious for being the commencement of the Kobe-Shaq epoch. During the offseason preceding the start of that season the Lakers, under the guidance of general manager Jerry West, acquired Shaquille O’Neal in free agency and completed a draft day trade that sent Vlade Divac to the Charlotte Hornets in exchange for Kobe Bryant.

The aspect of that offseason that has escaped scores of basketball minds is that Magic Johnson nearly made a third comeback for the Lakers because of his desire to play with O’Neal.

"I want to come back, yes," Johnson said during halftime of the U.S. Olympic team's victory over Angola on July 22, 1996 to the NY Daily News.

“If I come back to the Lakers, I have to come back in January," he said. The Lakers had renounced his rights at the end of the 1995-96 season, so Johnson could not return until 54 days into the season, which would have been in January.

Magic did not get his inclination to return for a final time and rumors suggested that West wasn't eager about the prospect of an extra resurface of Johnson.

They were probably upset with a lot of things," responded Johnson to the rumors of West and other management being upset with him. "So was I. That's how it shoulda been. If you're not upset about losing, we're all doing the wrong thing."

What if the proper thing was a Magic return to the Lakers? The Great Western Forum horde could’ve got the opportunity to witness Magic, Shaq and Kobe play together for one or two seasons. But would a 37-year-old Johnson playing with a 24-year-old O’Neal and 18-year-old Bryant have altered the outcome of the team that year or even a season after?

It’s feasible that the team may well have competed better against the Utah Jazz in the playoffs. The Lakers were ousted by the Jazz in five games in the Western Conference Se...

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