Magic Johnson on HIV fight: “I’m happy it was me”


This week marked the 20th anniversary of Magic Johnson announcing he was retiring from the NBA because he had HIV. It was as shocking a moment as there has been in sports.

But it was also a turning point for our culture — Magic changed the face and perception of HIV and AIDS. People talked differently about who could get it, about the fight against it. Not many people could have handled the pressure and spotlight the way Magic did during a time of crisis.

Magic understood that and said basically the same thing to ESPN’s Dan LeBatard (via Sports Radio Interviews)

“I’m happy that it was me who got this news, who was the person who got HIV in terms of in the sports world, that could change the mindset of people about HIV and AIDS. Before I announced, you had to whisper about HIV and AIDS. Now, after I announced, you could talk openly about it. They had a person who could handle the backlash or the bad publicity or corporations dropping him. I handled all of that. I handled the backlash or the players who said they didn’t want to play against me, in Karl Malone and Mark Price. And I decided not to be angry at them, but to educate them … and all the other sports leagues and the world.”

Also from that same interview, this is my favorite part. It’s Magic talking about having to tell his wife, Cookie (who was pregnant at the time). He said all the way home he practiced the speech in his head.

All that practice, I couldn’t even begin to tell her. It was very difficult. And when I finally got the words out, she just cried. I told her, ‘I would understand if you wanted to leave me.’ As soon as I said ‘leave,’ she smacked me and hit me so hard like a Mike Tyson right cross and she said, ‘We’re going to beat this together.’ I think that was the greatest moment of all of this.”