The stunning announcement by Los Angeles Lakers basketball star Earvin "Magic" Johnson that he has the AIDS virus has riveted the attention of the American public on the disease as well as on the image and lifestyle of its sports heroes.

In Johnson's case it is an image of athletic stardom, charitable works and business success. But, by his own admission, it is now an image of a man who led a life filled with the indulgences and privileges that accompany fabulous fame, wealth and adulation. For Magic Johnson, one of the most irresistible aspects was sex.

"I confess that after I arrived in L.A. in 1979, I did my best to accommodate as many women as I could -- most of them through unprotected sex," he wrote in the Nov. 18 issue of Sports Illustrated.

Interviews with dozens of Johnson's friends, business associates, colleagues and former lovers over the past two weeks portray a Magic who led a hard-charging life on and off the court. Johnson, his wife and family members declined to be interviewed for this story.

"Magic is the man," said Pamela McGee, a former all-America basketball star at the University of Southern California. She described Johnson as a "kind of big brother" friend in the early 1980s when she was in college. The hyped life of professional sports is "something you'd never understand unless you were a part of it," she said.

"He could have all the women . . . For a lot of men -- not just Magic -- women become another game," McGee said. "Who could have the most women? Who could have the most beautiful women? . . . Some women still believe in Cinderella. And in the black community, the athlete is still seen as the knight in shining armor."

Doctors are still investigating Johnson's case and have begun to treat him with AZT, medication given to delay the onset of AIDS symptoms. A doctor said Friday that Johnson's agent is searching the athlete's medical records to find results of a 1988 AIDS test that was done for insurance purposes. The most recent test was also done for insurance purposes.

"We're trying to track the {test} down," said David Ho of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York City. "It will help us narrow down the time of infection. It's just another piece of evidence."

Success brought Johnson more success. He has been welcomed in the business world by such non-sports figures as Joe Smith, the president and chief executive officer of Capitol-EMI Records, and Michael Ovitz of Creative Artists Agency.

"He's magnetic," said Dana James, a television broadcaster who dated Johnson for most of 1988 when she hosted a morning news program with the ABC affiliate in Los Angeles. "All people are drawn to him. Any person who ever entered his personal space, he was genuinely kind to."

"He admires success," recording executive Smith told Sports Illustrated in an article last December. Smith says Magic can be in a room with 50 businessmen, "and they all think they've been touched."

Johnson earns about $5 million a year in endorsements from companies such as Converse Athletic Wear, Spalding and Kentucky Fried Chicken, holds a one-third ownership of a Pepsi-Cola franchise in Prince George's County, owns an apparel company licensed by the National Basketball Association and operates basketball camps for youngsters. By his own count he is worth about $100 million.

He relishes competition. He can spend half an hour arguing over a point in a casual water volleyball match. He slams down the cards when he wins at whist, taunting his opponent to "rise and fly." He goes to the hippest clubs on Sunset Boulevard, where Arsenio Hall and Prince surround themselves with an entourage at tables in the VIP sections.

Over the past decade, Johnson, who was married Sept. 14, pursued and paid for a lifestyle that invited pro athletes, singers, television stars and other celebrities into his social sphere. Hundreds came to his home or to clubs to celebrate New Year's Eve, his birthday in August or his latest NBA record.

The lifestyle also invited sexual disease.

"We talked about it," said Johnson's close friend and agent, Lon Rosen, when asked if he had been concerned about the star's promiscuity. Did Johnson have any regrets today in the face of his infection? "Of course," Rosen said last week. He declined to elaborate.

By all accounts, Johnson, 32, does not drink alcohol or use drugs. Sex was what occupied much of his spare time. Women, from business professionals to bartenders, joined him in discreet afternoon trysts, nightlong parties at his home and short vacation trips in such locales as Hawaii and the Bahamas. He is named in two paternity suits in Ingham County Circuit Court in Michigan, the details of which have been suppressed. He has one child, 10-year-old Andre, from an off-and-on relationship that dated from high school.

In Los Angeles, he gave courtside tickets to women he'd select to cheer him on. He paid for airline tickets and hotel rooms so they could meet him in various cities. He had poolside parties at his mansion in Bel Air, and later at his mansion in Beverly Hills.

He liked blondes. He liked brunettes. He did not discriminate among races. He said he had sexual relations exclusively with women and no one has publicly disputed that. He liked the women better if they were athletically inclined, better yet if they looked good in Spandex.

Women would slip him their phone number when asking for an autograph. Some women he met through friends. Some he approached at bars, asking if they were married and then for a phone number.

James, the broadcaster, said she had no illusions that she was the only woman in his life.

"I truly think that he is one of the few men who really enjoys women and who truly likes women as a people. He is respectful and in awe of women. I never assumed that I was the only one, ever."

Angela Wallace is a Los Angeles lawyer who has known Johnson well since his arrival on the West Coast and said she has helped him draw up guest lists for his parties. He is charming, he is handsome and his smile naturally draws people, she said.

Many women wanted to be with Johnson, but in Wallace's view "he's had one girlfriend for the last 14 years," referring to Johnson's now-wife, Earleatha "Cookie" Kelly.

Wallace is closer to Johnson than many: She knew he was undergoing medical tests and she said he met with her the morning he made his public announcement to tell her the test was positive.

Not all athletes get caught up in the lifestyle. "With athletes, there's a wonder of temptations," said A.C. Green, the Lakers forward who espouses monogamy. "That's what everyone has to fight against. It's a self-control problem. The Bible says what you sow is what you reap."

Johnson has done much beyond playing basketball and meeting women. He has raised millions of dollars for the United Negro College Fund and other charities, spent time teaching youngsters the finer moves at summer basketball camps and bought his parents a home with the money from his first professional basketball contract.

He does major promotions; he also does quiet deeds. Beverly Wynder is the barber at Morningside Park Barber Shop who has cut his hair since he moved to Los Angeles. Johnson pays her the $12 charge plus a tip per cut -- and when she enrolled her grandson in basketball camp, he returned her $500 check. He just wouldn't take the money, Wynder said.

His ties to Lansing, Mich., have remained strong. Until his late twenties, Johnson had his annual birthday party there, bringing in such entertainers as Luther Vandross. He chose to get married in Michigan -- giving friends and family just three weeks' notice -- and asked a high school buddy, Dale Beard, to be his best man.

When his sister Mary died of leukemia a few years ago, Johnson dedicated the rest of his season to her. When his older brother Larry turned to illegal drugs, he brought him to Los Angeles and tried unsuccessfully to extricate him from that scene.

Johnson grew up in Lansing as one of seven children in a middle-class neighborhood blocks west of the Oldsmobile plant. His mother worked as an aide in the school system; his father worked two jobs, at the plant and on his own, hauling rubbish.

Johnson speaks openly about the respect he has for his parents. It is a religious family. His father, Earvin Sr., serves on the men's league at a Baptist church in Lansing. His mother, Christine, is a Seventh Day Adventist who would miss Johnson's Friday night games when he was in high school because of religious beliefs.

Johnson was a highly sought after college recruit. He was popular with his classmates. While still in high school, he crashed fraternity parties at nearby Michigan State University to meet older, freshmen girls. One of them was Cookie Kelly.

Today, Kelly is a little more than two months pregnant. She has tested negative for the virus, Johnson said at his news conference.

Gregory Eaton, a lobbyist with a private firm, has known Johnson since his high school days, when he paid the teenager $2.35 an hour to run errands. The men are friends and Eaton said he and others knew Johnson was bound for greater glories. Early in Johnson's career, Eaton spoke to him about his future a couple times, once when he heard that Johnson had fathered a child.

Andre was born the second year Johnson was in the pros, Eaton said. "I told him, 'You have to be careful. Your career and everything is before you. People don't want you knockin' up their sisters and daughters. Your image is important,' " Eaton said.

Eaton, 51, said he did not discuss birth control with Johnson and that he did not consider unusual that Johnson had a child out of wedlock.

"You have to put it in perspective," Eaton said. "Most young girls, what do they want? If they are unschooled, they want a baby . . . a young man is very vulnerable to that."

A couple of months ago, Eaton and Joel Ferguson, a real estate developer and Michigan State University trustee, held a bachelor party for Johnson at Ferguson's home, off the eighth hole of the Lansing Country Club. No women were invited, Ferguson said, except for "six or seven dancers." About 50 men attended.

Ferguson emphasized that over the years he had "never felt anything was happening on the road" with Johnson and women. He assumed Johnson was seeing other women besides Cookie Kelly because "there was the idea that Earvin couldn't settle down."

Johnson left Michigan State in 1979, after his sophomore year. He was the league's No. 1 draft choice and signed with the Lakers for one of the richest contracts for a rookie.

Magic Johnson, a kid whose nickname was conjured in high school by a Lansing sports writer looking for a nice twist to a story, was on his way to a city that loves a fantasy.

When Johnson arrived in Los Angeles that fall, he formed a close relationship with team owner Jerry Buss -- a millionaire real estate developer who has not been shy about his social exploits.

A June 1979 Sports Illustrated article about Buss, who had just paid $67.5 million to buy the Lakers, the Forum and the National Hockey League Kings from Jack Kent Cooke, detailed how the new owner dated women "by the dozen."

Josh Rosenfeld, former public relations director for the Lakers and now director of international public relations for the NBA, said the Buss and Johnson friendship grew beyond basketball.

"It was not owner-player," Rosenfeld said. "Early in his career they socialized and went to different clubs together. They were closer than the other players. They had a mutual love of sports. That was a common bond between them."

After arriving in Los Angeles, Johnson lived in a two-bedroom condominium that Buss owned in the Fox Hills section. There he had smaller parties, many with such Michigan friends as Pamela McGee and her twin sister Paula, former Michigan State basketball manager Darwin Payton -- Johnson's roommate on college road trips -- and boyhood friend and Michigan State teammate Greg Kelser.

Kelser said he was surprised by Johnson's recent admission of sexual liaisons with many women. Johnson was very private, Kelser said, a trait that friends accepted. For instance, it was not until 1987 that Kelser found out that Johnson had a son. By then, Andre was 6.

"We were at lunch and he said his son was going to be in L.A. I said, 'What did you say?' He laughed and said, 'Yeah, I have a 6-year-old son.' . . . I was surprised . . . that it escaped the rumor mill."

Rosalie Metcalfe and Pam Smith were friends from Michigan State who Johnson hired to handle cooking and housekeeping in Fox Hills. They baked oatmeal and peanut butter cookies, cooked fried chicken, cleaned the house and did the laundry; in return they got an apartment, food, a salary and Lakers season tickets. "He loved that little place," Metcalfe said.

As Johnson's celebrity grew, so did his celebrations. After his move to a $2 million house on Moraga Drive in Bel Air, Johnson began hosting poolside parties. He became more removed from his hometown friends, according to a longtime associate. Johnson has accumulated cars -- a Mercedes Benz, a Rolls-Royce, a Ford Bronco -- bought his clothes in sprees. One friend recalled him buying seven pairs of alligator shoes in New Orleans.

His biggest bashes, such as New Year's Eve and birthday celebrations, were held at his home or at a local hotel. By February 1990 he owned a $7 million mansion on Beverly Drive in Beverly Hills and that became the site of his pool parties.

"He's definitely the biggest host in L.A.," said Ed Baquero, manager of Stringfellows, a fashionable Beverly Hills nightclub just off Rodeo Drive. "When he throws a party, everyone knows about it. He was known as a real playboy."

At one of two parties he threw at Stringfellows last summer, Johnson picked up a $20,000 bar bill so 1,400 guests -- including Eddie Murphy, Byron Allen and Rob Lowe -- could drink for free. People tried to pay off security guards to gain entrance to the event, which was so mobbed that Baquero recalls the fire department was called to clear the streets.

One of his last big parties was held last month at C.J. Barrymore's. Johnson has hosted parties there before; so has Lakers owner Buss, according to Scott Reed, vice president for marketing at the nightclub.

That party was held on Oct. 23, two days before he received his first AIDS test results. Johnson arrived late for that party and left early, Reed said.

One former girlfriend named Pam (not Pamela McGee or Pam Smith), who had a relationship with Johnson from 1981 through 1983, said she was "fixed up" with the Lakers star when she was a college student in Los Angeles through a mutual friend who is still close to Johnson. Now a 32-year-old housewife, she agreed to extensive interviews with The Post on condition she remained anonymous.

She got courtside Lakers' tickets, courtesy of Magic. Other women got them too.

"He would {make a basket} and all these women would stand up and look at each other," Pam said. "He liked to have a personal cheering section. They figured it out."

Johnson frequently asked her to walk around the court during the second half of the ballgame so he would know she was there. She did. "I never even questioned it," she said. "He would also want me to meet him at the Forum Club."

She said her interest waned when Johnson shifted his attention to other women. "If you weren't special, it was time to get out. I got out," she said.

Another woman, who tends bar at a nightclub Johnson frequents, was asked out by the Lakers star following a party that he threw and at which she worked. The bartender, who spoke to The Post on the condition that her name not be used, said she met with Johnson alone on three occasions, including at his Bel Air house, between February 1989 and February 1990. They had sexual relations, including one time after they met for lunch at a restaurant in Malibu.

"It was nothing real serious," said the woman. "He likes power. He always had to be a winner. I'm not saying he's disrespectful of women, but how can you respect someone when he's going out and sleeping with women daily?"

The woman said she was tested for the AIDS virus following Johnson's disclosure. She did not know the test results when she was interviewed for this report.

"I think there's a lot of women wondering exactly when he did know," she said.

Another woman interviewed for this report said she discussed safe sex, AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases with Johnson before having sex with him in 1988. That was the last time Johnson had been tested for the AIDS virus before his most recent examinations, according to a friend of his and one of the physicians who tested the athlete's blood for the HIV virus.

One longtime acquaintance recalls that Johnson found women even when he didn't want to. One time Johnson and the friend entered a hotel room and a woman was waiting in the bed. She had bribed a hotel employee to secret herself into Johnson's room.

Johnson got another room.

Throughout his pro career, Johnson has looked out for people he knew in his early days -- and come to rely on them to help him out.

In the days before his wedding, Johnson again asked an old friend for help. He and Cookie needed to get their health certificates, required by Michigan law, in a hurry. His agent called Thomas K. Jamieson, the Lansing physician who had bound Johnson's cuts and bruises since he was 14.

Johnson wanted Jamieson to sign the health certificate without a counseling session, as required by law. Jamieson, interviewed at his office last week, said he told Johnson he couldn't skirt the law.

So Johnson and Kelly sat in the yellow leather chairs of Jamieson's office on Sept. 11 and listened as the doctor outlined Michigan's marriage-health laws. No blood test was required but they needed to discuss the possibility of AIDS. "I said, 'If you'd like, we can do these tests and get the results,' " he said.

"They were both in agreement they didn't want the test," he said. "I've certainly thought about it since then. He didn't appear to have any concern. Was there any hesitation? I almost said, 'Let's do the test.' If I had said it, he'd have done it. . . .

"But then again, what would I have done, if it came back positive?"

Staff writer Margaret K. Webb and staff researcher Bridget Roeber contributed to this report.