Magic Johnson: 20 Years After Announcing He Had HIV

by November 07, 2011

Today marks the 20-year anniversary of Magic Johnson’s stunning announcement to the world that he had contracted the HIV virus (a milestone many feared would never happen when the news broke.) Johnson continues to fight on despite the disease, working with various groups to educate the public on HIV and AIDS. Many great pieces were penned to mark the anniversary, but I want to direct you particularly to this one in SI as being the best and most comprehensive of them all: “Our first thought was, We’re going to watch him die. We need to keep remembering that for a few reasons: to appreciate how much medical (or pharmacological) science has evolved, to appreciate how much our perception of disease can change and to appreciate how much one person can do if his will is strong. Thousands of readers will find it hard to grasp that we heard ‘death sentence’ when Magic gathered us around the TV on Nov. 7, 1991 and told us — astoundingly, bomb-droppingly — that he had ‘attained’ the AIDS virus, as if it were another capture-the-flag moment in a gilded career. Millions are living with HIV and will never acquire full-blown AIDS, which is still a deadly disease. But in the early ’90s we were in the Dark Ages of this mysterious disease. Worse, we believed that Magic would in all likelihood wither away in the most public fashion, dribbling a mini-ball through Arsenio’s legs, dunking over Jay on a 7-foot basket, always game and smiling, of course, but each time a little weaker, a little frailer, a little less … Magic. But it never happened. And so we recognize the 20th anniversary of what was quite simply the most riveting sports press conference in history. With no reason to suspect there won’t be a 50th. Magic is 52 going on 22, a global businessman, NBA commentator, talk-show guest, ambassador without portfolio, one of those one-name supernovas that everybody knows. But it was nothing like that on that Thursday afternoon in November of ’91. About two years later, another jaw-dropping, page-one presser took place in Chicago when Michael Jordan announced his sudden retirement (the first one) from the NBA. But that gathering had an entirely different feel to it, permeated as it was by a grumbling undertone amid the press, which doubted it was getting the whole story. (Some still doubt it today.) Magic’s press conference, by contrast, was dirge-like, the testimonials more like eulogies, a kind of pre-funeral. All in all, it was a strange time with a preamble and multiple repercussions afterward.”