When Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson announced at a packed news conference on November 7, 1991, that he had contracted HIV, the impact was felt not just on the basketball court but around the world.
Johnson is one of the most popular basketball players of all time and 30 years ago no one of his stature had publicly revealed an AIDS diagnosis.
To say the announcement came as a shock is a massive understatement. Remember when we heard that Tom Hanks had COVID? That feeling times a gazillion.
The reason news was so shocking was because 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.
With his wife Cookie at his side, 32-year-old Magic Johnson told a room full of sports reporters at the Great Western Forum in Los Angeles that he had only learned the day before that he was HIV positive.
He told stunned reporters that he was retiring from the Lakers and the NBA effective immediately.
Displaying his trademark cheerfulness and positive attitude, Johnson said he felt fine, and didn’t have any symptoms of AIDS….adding he was looking forward to a long life off the court.
His doctors said that although Johnson was still healthy, continued athletic competition could harm his immune system.
The impact of Magic’s public diagnosis was massive — underscoring the point that anyone can contract HIV and driving home the importance of getting tested.
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 though. 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 62-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 stories from the 1990s, make sure to check out my podcast “History of the 90s” on ApplePodcasts, Spotify, Google Play and anywhere else you stream audio. You can also listen at Curiouscast.ca.