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.
Jul 30, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
Hoiberg has a much stronger offensive reputation than Tom Thibodeau.
Jul 30, 2015, 10:43 PM EDT
Portland received Mike Miller and two second-round picks in addition to Haywood.
Jul 30, 2015, 10:00 PM EDT
Lieberman would be the second female assistant coach, after Becky Hammon
Jul 30, 2015, 9:15 PM EDT
Scott was charged with possession of marijuana and MDMA.
Jul 30, 2015, 8:30 PM EDT
Smith says he was talking more about family stability than money in his controversial comments.
Jul 30, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT
Huestis spent last season in the D-League.
Jul 30, 2015, 7:06 PM EDT
Could Gregg Popovich take his place in 2020?
Jul 30, 2015, 5:40 PM EDT
In what will be the last year for Duncan and Manu Ginobili, not to mention David West’s long career, there will be plenty of desperation and energy in San Antonio.
Jul 30, 2015, 4:49 PM EDT
Arenas suggests LeBron isn’t selfish enough.
Jul 30, 2015, 4:11 PM EDT
Spurs coach happily assigns credit
Jul 30, 2015, 3:25 PM EDT
Will Karl-Anthony Towns, Nikola Pekovic or Gorgui Dieng start beside him?
Jul 30, 2015, 2:33 PM EDT
Will he want it?
Jul 30, 2015, 1:48 PM EDT
Timberwolves apparently weren’t just going to trade Love for whatever they could get
Jul 30, 2015, 1:00 PM EDT
Suspending Patriots quarterback for a quarter of the season was bare minimum for Mavericks owner
Jul 30, 2015, 12:07 PM EDT
Jerry Colangelo said attendance was mandatory to be considered for 2016 Olympic team
Jul 30, 2015, 11:22 AM EDT
NBA commissioner confident Africa will get a preseason game
Jul 30, 2015, 10:31 AM EDT
Hawks wing says his leg and ankle feel better
Jul 30, 2015, 9:28 AM EDT
Philadelphia drafted Holmes in second round
Jul 30, 2015, 8:33 AM EDT
Barnes is a perfect fit in for the “grit and grind” style of the Grizzlies.
Jul 30, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
Portland not making a call means they knew Aldridge was gone and it was time to rebuild.
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