20 years ago today, Magic Johnson changed the face of HIV


I know exactly where I was 20 years ago today, Nov. 7, 1991, a little after 3 in the afternoon.

I was at a part-time job at a medical company I had to earn beer money while in school, listening to the radio and doing menial work a trained chimp could have done better. Then the DJ broke in with the news:

Magic Johnson had HIV. He was retiring from the Lakers.

If you grew up a Lakers fan as I did — or even just a fan of basketball — was a punch to the gut. Maybe more than that. The rest of the day seemed foggy. I don’t remember if I cried, but I know Jerry West, Pat Riley, A.C. Green and virtually everyone close to Magic cried a lot that day.

Ervin Magic Johnson was bigger than basketball in Los Angeles, he was (and is) my favorite player and he had been given what we all thought at the time was a death sentence.

Fortunately for all of us — especially Magic — it didn’t turn out that way. For much of America he would change the face of the disease and what it meant to live with it. Magic would go on to play again, be on the Dream Team and win gold, then go on to help reshape Los Angeles as a businessman bringing amenities and shopping to neighborhoods where before that chains feared to tread.

His announcement 20 years ago today changed a lot of things, as a great Time magazine article on the issue reminds us (via The Big Lead).

“It made people notice, for the first time, that you can get infected with HIV without being gay, without being a drug user, without being a sex worker,” says Kevin Frost, CEO of amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research. “A lot of people took notice, and that changed the perception of how people got infected, and who was at risk.”

And since that day, Johnson has changed the perception of what it means to live with HIV. By not only surviving the past 20 years, but also by all appearances remaining healthy while becoming a prosperous businessman who has replicated his on-court success in the boardroom, Johnson has shown that HIV doesn’t have to be a death sentence. Johnson is still the most visible, high-profile symbol of a fact unimaginable in 1991. HIV can be beat.

When Magic someday passes — long, long into the future, we hope — there will be highlight videos of no-look passes to James Worthy and remembrances of his battles with Larry Bird. His basketball accomplishments will rightfully be celebrated.

But what Magic has done off the court will forever dwarf what he did on it.

The lives he changed by changing the perception of HIV. What he has done as a businessman. That changed more lives than all the no-look passes put together.

That is Magic’s true legacy. And it all started 20 years ago today in a way that shocked us all.

Tony Parker wants to play six more seasons with Spurs

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Tony Parker revealed a plan nearly two years ago to play until he’s 38.

Coming off his worst season since his rookie year, the Spurs point guard is sticking to that goal.

Parker, via Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports:

“The Spurs know I want to play until I’m 38,” Parker told Yahoo Sports in a recent phone interview. “That will be 20 seasons for me. That’s my goal. This year is No. 15. And if I’m lucky enough and I’m healthy, hopefully I can play 20 seasons and then I’ll be ready to retire.”

That seems pretty ambitious, no matter how you handle the conflicting math. (Parker is 33. If he plays 20 seasons, he’ll spend most of his final season at age 39 and turn 40 during the playoffs.)

Parker is already showing signs of slippage. Many of his key numbers were down last season, including ESPN’s real-plus minus, where he quietly slipped from 12th to 67th among point guards.

But Gregg Popovich is very liberal with resting his players, and Parker won’t have to carry too much of the load. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili will probably retire before Parker, but the Spurs will still have Kawhi Leonard and LaMarcus Aldridge.

I wouldn’t count on it, but it’s possible Parker lasts that long.

Report: Pelicans signing Greg Smith

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The Pelicans starting center, Omer Asik, is injured.

Their backup center, Alexis Ajinca, is injured.

Enter Greg Smith.

Scott Kushner of The Advocate:

Smith was part of the Rockets’ 2012-13 rotation, but otherwise, he has seen limited minutes in his four-year career with Houston and Dallas. In that small sample, he has looked alright. The 6-foot-10 24-year-old uses his big frame and massive hands to catch passes and finish efficiently near the rim. He has also become more disciplined defensively.

I wouldn’t be surprised if he makes the regular-season roster behind the 13 Pelicans with guaranteed salaries.

But it’s also possible New Orleans signed him just an extra preseason body. That’d beat relying too heavily on the aging Kendrick Perkins and undersized Jeff Adrien at center. Anthony Davis is the Pelicans’ best option at center with Asik and Ajinca sidelined (and maybe even with them healthy), but the biggest drawback to playing him there is the injury risk. If Davis is going to deal with the banging at center, might as well save it for games that count.

Still, even New Orleans plans to keep Smith only through the preseason, this at least gives him a chance to impress.