Nov 7, 2011, 8:01 AM EDT
I know exactly where I was 20 years ago today, Nov. 7, 1991, a little after 3 in the afternoon.
I was at a part-time job at a medical company I had to earn beer money while in school, listening to the radio and doing menial work a trained chimp could have done better. Then the DJ broke in with the news:
Magic Johnson had HIV. He was retiring from the Lakers.
If you grew up a Lakers fan as I did — or even just a fan of basketball — was a punch to the gut. Maybe more than that. The rest of the day seemed foggy. I don’t remember if I cried, but I know Jerry West, Pat Riley, A.C. Green and virtually everyone close to Magic cried a lot that day.
Ervin Magic Johnson was bigger than basketball in Los Angeles, he was (and is) my favorite player and he had been given what we all thought at the time was a death sentence.
Fortunately for all of us — especially Magic — it didn’t turn out that way. For much of America he would change the face of the disease and what it meant to live with it. Magic would go on to play again, be on the Dream Team and win gold, then go on to help reshape Los Angeles as a businessman bringing amenities and shopping to neighborhoods where before that chains feared to tread.
“It made people notice, for the first time, that you can get infected with HIV without being gay, without being a drug user, without being a sex worker,” says Kevin Frost, CEO of amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research. “A lot of people took notice, and that changed the perception of how people got infected, and who was at risk.”
And since that day, Johnson has changed the perception of what it means to live with HIV. By not only surviving the past 20 years, but also by all appearances remaining healthy while becoming a prosperous businessman who has replicated his on-court success in the boardroom, Johnson has shown that HIV doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Johnson is still the most visible, high-profile symbol of a fact unimaginable in 1991. HIV can be beat.
When Magic someday passes — long, long into the future, we hope — there will be highlight videos of no-look passes to James Worthy and remembrances of his battles with Larry Bird. His basketball accomplishments will rightfully be celebrated.
But what Magic has done off the court will forever dwarf what he did on it.
The lives he changed by changing the perception of HIV. What he has done as a businessman. That changed more lives than all the no-look passes put together.
That is Magic’s true legacy. And it all started 20 years ago today in a way that shocked us all.
Sep 17, 2014, 12:14 AM EDT
Well, it’s better than his golf swing.
Sep 16, 2014, 10:45 PM EDT
There haven’t been many better.
Sep 16, 2014, 8:33 PM EDT
Germany qualifying for the Olympics, even with Nowitzki, is an uphill battle.
Sep 16, 2014, 7:23 PM EDT
It seems fitting.
Sep 16, 2014, 5:59 PM EDT
Guaranteed Duncan likes this better than another trip to the All-Star Game.
Sep 16, 2014, 5:20 PM EDT
Half his salary the first year is guaranteed, a sign he is expected to make the final roster.
Sep 16, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT
We’re sorry to do this to you.
Sep 16, 2014, 4:19 PM EDT
The guaranteed deal is huge but the Wolves are deep at the three. He’ll struggle to get minutes.
Sep 16, 2014, 3:17 PM EDT
Orlando also announces signing of Peyton Siva
Sep 16, 2014, 2:33 PM EDT
Stojakovic’s 3-point bombing made Sacramento better for quite some time
Sep 16, 2014, 1:50 PM EDT
Kirilenko played by far career-low 19 minutes per game last season
Sep 16, 2014, 1:11 PM EDT
Will the Suns take advantage?
Sep 16, 2014, 12:33 PM EDT
Mavericks star could help Germany qualify for 2016 Olympics
Sep 16, 2014, 11:44 AM EDT
No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the NBA draft square off against each other, expectations
Sep 16, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
Williams, who plays both forward positions, now favorite to replace Josh McRoberts in starting lineup
Sep 16, 2014, 10:00 AM EDT
Plenty of changes, but enough to make the playoffs?
Sep 16, 2014, 9:30 AM EDT
San Antonio already has 17 players, qualifying offer out to Baynes
Sep 16, 2014, 9:00 AM EDT
Bill Duffy: ‘Klay Thompson right now is the top two-way, two-guard in basketball’
Sep 16, 2014, 8:30 AM EDT
Deron Williams opening the season healthy would be huge… but just the start of what they need from him.
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