Magic Johnson Announced he was HIV Positive 21 years ago

Players in this post:
Pat Riley Earvin Johnson Michael Jordan

Since that day he’s become a Lakers coach, player again and minority owner & VP.  He’s arguably the best businessman that ever wore a NBA uniform. Wrote books, gave motivational speeches, worked as a commentator, part owner of the LA Dodgers and still the best point guard of all-time!


This article was originally published by the Detroit Free Press by GREG STODA AND FRANK BRUNI on Nov. 8, 1991

Earvin (Magic) Johnson, one of the greatest basketball players in history, retired Thursday with a stunning explanation, issued bluntly and bravely: He had tested positive for the AIDS virus.

With those words, he not only removed from professional sports one of its most beloved heroes, but shook Americans out of their complacency about AIDS, perhaps changing forever the way they view the disease and those with it.
“It can happen to anybody, ” Johnson said at a news conference in Los Angeles carried live to TV viewers across the country.

He vowed to repeat that message often as a spokesman for AIDS prevention, a role once unimaginable for the favorite son of Lansing, where he grew up and led Michigan State University to a national championship.

He does not have AIDS — just the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which can lead to the disease.

“Sometimes you’re naive and think it can never happen to you, ” said Johnson, 32, whose name and face have been used to sell everything from soft drinks to athletic shoes. “Here I am saying it can happen to anybody. Even me, Magic Johnson, it could happen to.”

Americans were shocked. The words didn’t go with the man: a seemingly invincible athlete, captain of a career so charmed they call him Magic.

He is recently married, stands tall and strong, and doesn’t seem to fall into any of the groups at highest risk of infection.

During his brief statement, his voice remained upbeat, no trace of panic or anger.

“This is not like my life is over, ” Johnson said, in what seemed an attempt to reassure fans who love him and Americans so frightened by AIDS.

“This is another challenge, another chapter in my life. You have to come out swinging.” He pledged to live a long time yet.

“I’m going to miss the game of basketball, ” he said. “I plan to become a spokesman for the HIV virus.”

His wife, Earletha Kelly, whom he married Sept. 14, stood beside him. She has tested negative, he said.

Johnson declined to say how he might have become infected, and doctors at the news conference said they didn’t know for certain.

But according to the Orange County Register, Dr. Michael Mellman, a physician for the Los Angeles Lakers, said: “This is a heterosecksual who was infected through heterosecksual activity. And that is why his message is coming out for safe secks.”

Johnson’s colleagues and friends were shaken.

New York Knicks coach Pat Riley, who coached Johnson for nine seasons with the Los Angeles Lakers, choked back tears Thursday night at Madison Square Garden. He led his team and the crowd in reciting the Lord’s Prayer.

“It is important for all of us, how we handle this, ” Riley said. “There are so very many people out there affected that don’t have the exposure Magic has. We have to get rid of this cloak of shame.”

Johnson has been sick with the flu recently, but discovered he had the virus because of a life insurance medical test. His doctors advised him to quit basketball — and not play in the 1992 Olympics — because the rigors of the sport might weaken him, speeding the eventual development of HIV infection into full-blown AIDS.

Now, Johnson said, “I feel great.”

The chief methods of transmission of HIV are unprotected intercourse and the sharing of contaminated needles. The virus can strip the body of its defenses against disease.

Johnson is the most visible celebrity to deal with the AIDS issue so quickly and as forthrightly. He said he found out Wednesday night.

By his news conference Thursday, he was asking those who see him as a role model to learn caution and compassion from his situation. “I want young people to realize they can practice safe secks.”

Johnson’s youth set him on the road to glory. He led Lansing Everett High School to the state Class A basketball championship in 1977. As a sophomore, he led Michigan State to the NCAA title in 1979.

Johnson left college for the NBA after that season and led the Lakers to five NBA championships in a 12-year career. A 6- foot-9 guard with spectacular passing skills and an unparalleled sense of the game, Johnson helped revolutionize the sport. He was a three-time winner of the league’s most valuable player award.

“I’ve always said when Earvin retires from the game, he will go down in history as the greatest guard ever to play the game, ” said Michigan State coach Jud Heathcote. “That is the case today.”

Johnson, who played with the Lakers in an exhibition tournament in Paris last month before the start of the NBA season, returned to the United States feeling tired.

Johnson complained of weakness and problems with stamina. He said he noticed some weight loss, but didn’t verify it because he was “afraid to check how much.”

Johnson missed the Lakers’ first three games this season and had just been cleared to play again Monday.

Mellman said it’s impossible to determine when or if Johnson might get AIDS.

“Earvin is healthy now, we expect him to remain healthy and expect to have him around for a long time, ” Mellman said.

Dr. Evelyn Fisher, an AIDS expert at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, said that about half of infected people get AIDS within 10 years, Another 30 percent have a reduced ability to fight infection, and 20 percent are basically healthy.

A person is not diagnosed with AIDS until he or she gets any of several so-called opportunistic infections that normally don’t hit healthy people, and that signal an acute immune disorder.

Johnson said he had informed friends around the NBA of his situation.

“I couldn’t believe it, ” said Chicago Bulls star Michael Jordan. “I’m shocked. I need time.”

It’s unclear how his announcement will affect Johnson’s lucrative career endorsing products, which pays him $12 million a year. Several companies, including Pepsi-Cola and Converse, expressed deep concern and support, but said future ad plans would await direct discussions with him.

“We’ll do the right thing, ” said a spokeswoman for Pepsi, “but right now, he has more important things to think about.”

It’s also unclear how his announcement will affect professional sports, where there have been discussions about testing athletes for the HIV virus.

The National Basketball[..]ociation has no policy about HIV testing.

Johnson is clear about his own beliefs: “I’m going to deal with it and my life will go on. And I will be here enjoying the Laker games and all the other NBA games around the country. So life is going to go on for me, and I’m going to be a happy man.”

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