Twenty years ago today, Magic Johnson stepped to a podium — flashbulbs popping and tape recorders all around him — to announce that he would retire from the NBA after testing positive for HIV.
At his press conference, Johnson was composed and somehow maintained the charm and positive outlook that has made him one of the most respected and loved players of all time.
On that difficult day in 1991, Johnson made a conscious decision to become the face of HIV — a choice that has helped raise awareness worldwide and continues to resonate with the work of the Magic Johnson Foundation.
Johnson recounted his emotions from the day he was diagnosed on ESPN on Monday morning.
“You’re just floored, and you just don’t know what to do,” Johnson said. “And then you didn’t know what it meant to you, because at the time everybody assumed that having HIV was a death sentence.”
Death sentence. That was one of the most commonly associated phrases with HIV/AIDS in the early 1990s.
“All of us thought it was a death sentence,” said then-Lakers coach Pat Riley in a Sunday New York Times story by Harvey Araton.
But Johnson never seemed to dwell in the dark uncertainty of his disease — at least publicly.
“I plan on going on living for a long time,” Johnson said at his 1991 press conference. “I guess now I get to enjoy some of the other sides of living.”
With the help of expensive drugs and treatments (that few others could ever afford) and that infectious spirit of determination, here’s Magic, 20 years later, still living his life to the fullest doing what he can to raise awareness for a disease that infects tens of millions of people around the world.
Where were you when Magic made his announcement? What were your thoughts on Johnson and HIV/AIDS that day and how have they changed?