On November 7, 1991, basketball superstar Earvin “Magic” Johnson announced that he was infected with the HI virus. A monumental moment for American society, the NBA and not least for Johnson himself.
Before Magic Johnson made a memorable TV statement to the American population that fall day, hardly any prominent personalities had spoken publicly on the taboo topic AIDS – let alone national sports icons.
At that time, HIV was still attached to the stigma of a typical homo- or bisexual disease. Johnson, who later admitted that he was infected in one of his numerous affairs, took on a pioneering role with his statement. It was he who gave a face to a disease that was taboo in public.
His revelation at the time was equivalent to a death sentence. “We all thought Magic was going to die soon,” his then teammate James Worthy later recalled.
Johnson himself, known for his engaging toothpaste smile and infectious optimism, was always combative. “I will devote my life to fighting this deadly diagnosis. I will defeat it. We will see each other again,” he said at the end of his statement.
The then 32-year-old also urged other sick people not to “give up life.” In the same year, the Power Forward founded the ‘Magic Johnson Foundation‘to fight HIV.
Magic Johnson elected to the NBA All-Star Team despite retirement
In 1992, the NBA’s all-star game became the stage for Johnson’s first success in the fight against the virus. Although he was officially retired, fans voted him into the starting five of the Western Conference.
What followed was one of the most memorable appearances in all-star weekend history. After a gala performance with 25 points, Johnson was voted All-Star MVP for the second time.
Emotional high point: After the Lakers star sank a threesome shortly before the end, the members of both teams hugged him on the court.
Johnson’s triumphal procession culminated in the same year. Together with the legendary Dream Team, he won the Olympic gold medal alongside Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Charles Barkley in Barcelona.
With spectacular appearances, the US icons ensured a basketball boom that began around the world.
NBA stars don’t want Magic Johnson comeback
Despite these remarkable achievements, Johnson’s league comeback was several years away.
After the Olympics, numerous professionals – including in charge Karl Malone, in Barcelona and teammate from Magic – campaigned against a return of the five-time NBA champion due to the supposedly high risk of infection.
Johnson stated that he “did not want to harm the game” and withdrew from active competitive sport for the time being.
In 1994, in spite of everything, he returned to the NBA circus – not on the field, but on the bench. Johnson became a coach with the Los Angeles Lakers, his former team.
The short interlude lasted just 16 games. The Lakers missed the playoffs. After this disappointment, the 2.06 meter tall giant cleared the coaching chair again.
Magic Johnson: “Quit on my terms”
But the thoroughbred basketball player still didn’t have enough. In the 1995/1996 season, Johnson put on the legendary Lakers jersey with the number 32 on the back at the age of 36.
After the early playoff against the Houston Rockets, he then announced his final resignation: “I quit on my terms, there was no question of that in 1992 when my comeback was broken off.”
The 59-year-old is now a successful entrepreneur. He has also been President of the Lakers since 2017. Johnson continues to be committed to HIV prevention and promoting safe sex.