On November 7, 1991, Earvin “Magic” Johnson announced that he had contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
With his wife Cookie at his side, Magic Johnson, one of basketball’s greatest players, told a packed room of sports reporters that he was retiring from the Lakers and the NBA effective immediately.
Joining him at the news conference were then-NBA commissioner David Stern, Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss and former teammate Kareem-Abdul Jabbar.
To say the news came as a shock is a massive understatement. Remember when we heard that Tom Hanks had COVID? That feeling times a gazillion.
In 1991, HIV/AIDS was still largely seen as a disease that affected gay white men and drug users. And it was still considered a death sentence because the life-saving drug therapy we have today had not yet been discovered.
Also, very few celebrities had gone public with an HIV diagnosis, and certainly none with Magic Johnson’s level of celebrity.
The impact of Magic’s public diagnosis was massive, especially on the black community. According to Dr. Marsha Martin it underlined the importance of getting tested and underscored the point that anyone can contract HIV. In a 1992, autobiography Magic revealed he got HIV after sleeping with dozens (if not hundreds) of women while on the road with the Lakers in the 80s.
Magic Johnson’s life and career were far from over. He played in the 1992 NBA All-Star Game and on the U.S. Olympic “Dream Team” that won gold in Barcelona.
Magic coached the Lakers for one season in 93-94 and then made a short lived comeback as a Lakers player in the 95-96 season.
Today, the 61-year-old Hall of Famer is a prominent spokesman for AIDS awareness and a successful businessman with investments in everything from movie theatres to restaurants and a 4 per cent share of the Los Angeles Lakers. Magic is still married to Cookie.
For more major moments from the 90s, check out my podcast “History of the 90s.” It is available on ApplePodcasts, Spotify, Google Play and anywhere else you stream audio. You can also listen at http://www.curiouscast.ca