09/30/1991 at 01:00 AM EDT
EARVIN "MAGIC" JOHNSON OF THE LOS ANGELES Lakers and Isiah Thomas of the Detroit Pistons are liberated men—famously so. When they meet in a packed arena, the two basketball stars greet each other with a kiss. But last Sunday, Sept. 15, in Lansing, Mich., Thomas was on the sideline as Johnson puckered up for another—his longtime girlfriend and new bride, Earletha "Cookie" Kelly.
The marriage between the L.A. businesswoman and one of the sports world's most eligible bachelors took place in Lansing's Union Missionary Baptist Church, near the Michigan State University campus where the couple—both are 32—met in 1977. The bride wore a white gown with a sweetheart neckline, a full skirl and flowing train; her bridesmaids wore black velvet. Elegant in a double-breasted white jacket and black pants, Magic counted Thomas and Piston teammate Mark Aquirre among his groomsmen, along with friends he'd played ball with in college and high school.
For the onetime Lansing kid who'd made good, the wedding was a match on home turf before a crowd of 275 friends and relatives, headed by Magic's parents, Earvin Sr. and Christine Johnson. One of Magic's sisters, Kim Johnson Ray, managed the affair right down to the red-trimmed white lilies on each table at the reception. The guest list included Stan Martin of Quality Dairy stores in Lansing, the man who gave young Earvin his first job, and Greta Dart, his fifth-grade teacher.
The most magical thing about the wedding may be that it happened at all. Johnson and Kelly were engaged in 1986 and again in March 1990, but each time he broke it off. The last time he told the press he would not get married until he divorced himself from the game of basketball. That's it, he said. "No more marriage. No more talk about it."
Apparently Magic discovered he could continue going to the hoop even as he installed one on his bride's finger. Cookie was wearing it as she left the church, a five-carat marquise-cut diamond in a white gold setting. The only thing brighter was the Magic man's smile.