November 7, 1991 was as dark a day as we’ve seen on the American sports landscape. That was the date that Magic Johnson held a press conference to announce to the world that he had contracted the HIV virus, and as a result, would be forced to retire from the Lakers.
The basketball part was secondary, of course. The initial, overwhelming emotions of shock and sadness that many felt were not for the loss of Magic the basketball player, but for the sobering thought (which was prevalent at the time) that Johnson had essentially just been given what many believed to be a “death sentence.”
Lakers.com reporter Mike Trudell sat down with longtime team trainer Gary Vitti to recount the events leading up to that historic press conference, and as you might imagine, it was an insanely emotional time for all involved.
But while Vitti and everyone else was instantly devastated by the news, Magic had this to say when discussing it with Vitti for the first time.
“I can tell you exactly what he said to me,” Vitti said. “I asked if he was OK, because, I said, ‘I’m a wreck.’ He said to me: ‘God gave me this disease, and he gave it to the right guy. I’m going to beat this, and do something really good with it.’ And he has. That was his attitude. It gave me strength, which is what I was supposed to give him, but I didn’t. He did.”
It’s a powerful read, especially the part about Magic talking to his teammates right before the press conference inside the Forum locker room. The courage that Magic showed that day should have been a clue to us all that he would in fact beat it, just as he promised.