25 years ago Magic Johnson faced the world and shared a devastating HIV diagnosis, becoming the example of how to live with the virus.
+ “First of all let me say good after…good late afternoon.
Because of the — the HIV virus that I have attained, 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 are — want to know that — but the HIV virus.
My wife is fine. She’s negative, so there’s no problem with her.
I plan on going on, living for a long time, bugging you guys, like I’ve [sic] always have. So, you’ll see me around. I plan on being with the Lakers and the league — Hopefully, David [Stern] will have me for awhile — and going on with my life.
And I guess now I get to enjoy some of the other sides of living…that because of the season, the long practices and so on. I just want to say that I’m going to miss playing. And I will now become a spokesman for the HIV virus because I want people — young people to realize that they can practice safe sex. And you know sometimes you’re a little naive about it and you think it could never happen to you. You only thought it could happen to, you know, other people and so on and all. And it has happened, but 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.”
– Magic Johnson, November 7, 1991
My Memories And Me Doing What I Need To Do
25 years ago, I was 8 years old. I lived in Jackson, Tennessee and I watched the news about Magic Johnson, as the rest of the world. There are just a few television news moments that I remember vividly– President Bush’s address to the nation on 9/11, the day that marriage equity became the law of the land from the Supreme Court, the infamous OJ chase, and the big news conference that Magic Johnson gave. It was terrible news and one that blood stained my memory as a child. I don’t think I understood much more than he was going to die.
But yet, he didn’t. He hasn’t.
And now 25 years after he became the face of HIV, the reality is that when he does pass away it will probably have very little, if anything, to do with HIV. That’s an important victory in the journey of those living with HIV and AIDS–that the face of the virus is a long-term survivor. Magic became more than the face of HIV. Magic Johnson became the example of how to live with HIV. And for that, the rest of us and particularly the newly diagnosed have an example of one way to chose to take this journey–facing it and being a better person.
As I reminisce about my own journey, I recognize that Magic Johnson really is a hero of mine–someone that is more of an unidentified hero, until now. I have loosely named in media interviews before, often jokingly, that the only things I knew about HIV before I was diagnosed was: the film Philadelphia and the basketball star Magic Johnson. But, because of Magic Johnson being brave–I felt ready to announce on social media that I was diagnosed shortly after receiving the result.
Sure I wasn’t announcing it in front of a barrage of cameras and blinding flashes, but I did announce it to the world in my own way–via Facebook to everyone. Because of his choice and his example, I have the perfect example of how to live well. And how to take the punches that unfair circumstances hand me in the form of funny, stigmatizing jokes and mischaracterizations.
Yesterday I had a moment that moved me to tears–that I hadn’t taken a moment to thank Magic Johnson, and his wife Cookie. But that ends today…
“Cookie Johnson, thank you for doing the right thing and staying beside Magic. You show tremendous character and I admire you.
Magic, thank you for your courage and owning it enough to decide to live well. Thank you for empowering me, even before I knew I would need it. And I’m sorry for any jokes I ever made out of fear and ignorance. Today, I am more than a fan, I am an admirer of your example, character, and work. So, thank you. I hope one day to be able to shake your hand and tell you man to man.”