By: Sharon Jenkins
The August issue of Identities Mic led with this, “Magic Johnson Just Hit a Milestone Many Thought Was Impossible 24 Years Ago.” On August 14, Earvin‘Magic’ Johnson turned 56 years old.
Thank God, Magic is still with us!
With the click of a mouse, I was transported back to that heart-stopping moment on November 7, 1991 when the sports world and a disheartened black America were riveted to this breaking news event.
Millions of fans stared in disbelief at the calm, relaxed demeanor with which, then, 32-year-old Magic Johnson strode to the mic and announced the end of his basketball career. It ended because of the, then, relatively unknown effects of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). At that time, HIV foreshadowed certain death.
Less than 24 hours after finding out he’d tested HIV positive, a serene Magic Johnson stood before a packed press room and spoke these words.
“…Because of the HIV virus that I have attained, um, I will have to retire from the Lakers today. I just want to make clear, first of all, that I do not have the AIDS disease ‘cause I know a lot of you wanna know that, but, um the HIV virus. My wife is fine. She’s negative, so no problem with her. I plan on going on, living for a long time bugging you guys like I always have so you’ll see me around. I plan on being with the Lakers and the league. Hopefully David will have me for a while, um, and going on with my life…I just want to say that I will miss playing and I will now become a spokesman for the HIV virus because I want people, and young people, to realize that they can practice safe sex. You know, sometimes, you’re a little naïve about it and you think it can never happen to you… But I’m gonna deal with it and my life will go on…I will now become a spokesperson for the HIV virus…It has happened and I’m gonna deal with it… and I’m gonna be a happy man.”
Is takes a certain kind of character, faith, family support and good health care to walk the walk that Magic Johnson has endured since the day he faced the cameras. I don’t remember where I was when I heard him speak but I do remember what I felt. Dred and sheer heartbreak for what I and millions of others thought, at the time, was a certain death sentence.
Thank God we were wrong.
While HIV marked the end of his basketball career, it didn’t mark the end of his life.
In a 2012 People magazine interview, Johnson credited his family for keeping him going. Johnson said he drew strength from his wife, Earlitha “Cookie” Johnson and his three children, Andre, Earvin and Elisa. In People, Johnson said his family“…gets on me making sure I’m doing everything the right way.” He said they press him on making sure he takes his meds, works out regularly and eats healthy.
On World AIDS Day in 2006, Johnson, at age 47, had lived with HIV for 15 years. Analysts reported on the “Magic Paradox,” a view that mused about whether Johnson was truly infected because he looked so healthy.
I’m sure living with HIV is not a cake walk. Magic Johnson was a fit athlete on top of the world stage he’d created for himself and his family. After working diligently to develop an athlete’s body only to be forced to walk away from the sport he loved had to be heartbreaking.
Thankfully, a concerted scientific effort is still on the hunt for a cure for HIV. To date, medical advances have provided life-saving medical treatments that, while not eliminating HIV can offer those infected with the virus a measure of hope for a longer life.
Congratulations, Magic, and here’s to the continued good health of all those living with HIV/AIDS.