I was 14 years old when Magic Johnson announced he was HIV positive. I can’t say that I remember every significant event in my childhood, but that one stands out in my mind very clearly.
I recall going to my uncle’s house and my mom telling me and my sister that Magic Johnson had HIV. My uncle was a huge Lakers and Magic fan and it really upset him. I remember thinking Magic was going to die soon because at that time, there was still a lot of misinformation and fear about HIV.
There was so much emphasis on the fact that there was not a “cure” for HIV that I don’t believe many people would have anticipated, 20 years later, Magic Johnson would still be with us, let alone an active husband, father, grandfather and business man, who most recently became part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Back in November 1991, Johnson announced he was retiring from the NBA at the age of 32. He also announced that he was HIV positive and had contracted the disease through unprotected sexual activity. At the time, his new bride, Earlitha “Cookie” Kelly was pregnant with his son, but neither mother nor baby contracted HIV.
Needless to say, the announcement shocked the sporting community and left room for concerned players who did not want to play against someone who had HIV. For this reason, Johnson did not return to the NBA, as a player, until he was 36 years old.
He played one season (32 games) and retired again in 1996. However, before returning to the NBA, Johnson competed in the 1992 Summer Olympic Games when the “Dream Team” won the gold medal (NBA TV is airing a documentary about Dream Team at 9 p.m. Wednesday).
Today, Johnson lives a very active life but is aware that he must stay vigilant in taking his medication, exercising and eating right. He wants his life to be an example of hope, not a letdown. He was recently quoted in Huffington Post Healthy Living saying,
“I often say I'm good for the virus, and bad for it. Good because I'm doing well, and that I can go out and try and raise the awareness level, get people to go get tested ... but on the flip side of that, people see that I'm doing well, so they've kind of relaxed on HIV and AIDS. People think that now if they get the virus, they'll do well, but a couple million will die this year."
Johnson goes on to say that he would like to see the number of minorities contracting the virus go down. The majority of new HIV cases in America are in minority populations. He says,
"I would be happier if the numbers in the black and brown communities would go down … Yes, I'm living, but people are still getting this virus even as we speak. We must change the mindset, and we must do a better job educating those who live in urban America about this disease."
Magic Johnson and other HIV activists and educators stress the need for Americans to stay educated and aware of how the disease is passed
and take steps to stop the spread. For more information about HIV and AIDS visit avert.org