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Magic takes a pass on a mayoral run (for now)

December 18, 2007 |  2:53 pm

Magic Johnson had one campaign on his mind this morning in Des Moines. But he got asked about another (prospective) one.

The Times' Peter Nicholas was there as Johnson visited a supermarket with Hillary Clinton -- his choice in the Democratic presidential race -- and the candidate's husband (a certain former president).

Johnson greeted a group of high school basketball players, signing autographs and posing for pictures. He seemed a natural on the campaign trail (much as he was on the basketball court), so Nicholas tossed the obvious question at him: Might he run for mayor of Los Angeles?

Magic replied that he was troubled by the condition of L.A. schools but has confidence in Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and has no wish to run.

"The citizens have asked me to run for many years now, but I think I can do a better job going around helping the mayor,'' he said.

He expanded on that later: "I'm helping the mayor right now with getting more control of the school system. We are having a problem right now in inner-city schools. What I have been trying to do is to talk not only with the school board, but also parents and kids to try to make the school system better.... I do a better job at that than actually being the mayor.''

We can't help but notice that Johnson's comments did not include a Shermanesque, never-gonna-do-it, rule-it-out-at-any-time quality.

During a brief news conference featuring the trio of campaigners, Johnson -- who since the end of his playing days with the L.A. Lakers has done much to spur entrepreneurialism among African Americans -- was asked why he wasn't backing Barack Obama's bid to become the nation's first black president....

He nodded to Hillary Clinton. "Only 30 years of experience right here,'' he said.

He returned to that theme later in the day, after he and Bill Clinton went off to Davenport, on the eastern fringe of Iowa, to tout the New York senator.

During a rally at a high school gym (appropriately), Johnson expounded on the theme that the ex-president broached a few days ago in an interview with PBS' Charlie Rose.

"You don't want somebody in there [as president] that is young or a rookie at politics," Johnson said. "We want somebody in there that knows what they're doing, because this job is so huge."

He continued: "The more I practiced the better I became. That's why I support Sen. Clinton, because she is the only one with 30 years of experience."

Johnson -- perhaps out of modesty, perhaps because it would not jibe with his message -- did not mention the fabulous success he enjoyed as a rookie in the NBA. He not only was an integral part of the Lakers team that snagged a world championship, but started firmly establishing himself as a legendary pro in the game that won the title.

Playing out of position, he filled in for injured center Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and dominated, scoring 42 points and recording 15 rebounds, seven assists and three steals. More experienced players were left in his wake -- and in awe.

-- Don Frederick