Earvin "Magic" Johnson and the HIV virus
On the 7th of November, 1991, basketball player Magic Johnson announced, after 12 successful seasons in the LA Lakers, that he would leave the competition. The reason? He was infected with the HIV/Aids virus
"I will fight this deadly disease”, said the American player in his announcement. “It’s not like my life is over, because it’s not. I will survive. I only have to take medication and start from there”. Live on CNN and ESPN, everyone watched Magic Johnson’s confession.
The announcement came at a time when Aids was still a taboo: it was associated with homosexuality and drug use.
“Safe sex is the way to go. Sometimes we think only gay people can get it, or it's not going to happen to me. Here I am, saying it can happen to everybody. Even me, Magic Johnson”.
The basketball player didn’t reveal how he had been infected, but admitted, that in spite of being married, the transmission had happened through relations with multiple partners.
“I’m gonna beat it” was the commitment the athlete made with himself and with everyone who admired him, wrote Daily News.
In November 1991, the month of Magic Johnson's announcement, the HIV/Aids test increased about 60% in the city of New York. The urgency in taking this exam quickly spread all over the country. Such was the chaos that testing and counselling centres, which didn’t require an appointment, started requiring appointments. The revelation made by the basketball player symbolizes a new era for the sake of the demystification of the disease.
The battle against the stigma of HIV
Also in 1991, Magic, now a spokesman for HIV prevention, created the Magic Johnson Foundation, which has helped millions of people.
Despite being out of competition, Magic played in the 1992 All-Star, in spite of certain voices contrary to his participation.
He also took part in the famous "Dream Team", the best basketball team ever assembled, which won the gold medal for the US at the Barcelona Olympics.
In excellent shape, the famous number 32 planned to return to the LA Lakers for the season 1992/93, less than a year after announcing his departure, but controversy would intensify…
The controversy of the Olympic Games
During the Olympic Games, inside and outside the team, there were reservations regarding the return of Magic Johnson. Although several doctors ensured that the risk of infection was inexistent, many didn’t want to share the same field with Johnson.
The most famous fear came from a former teammate, Karl Malone, who said that the infection could happen through contact with Magic’s sweat.
“The controversy over Magic Johnson's participation in the Summer Olympic Games is another example of panic and prejudice toward H.I.V.-infected people. Time and time again, it has been shown that transmission of H.I.V. is overwhelmingly through sexual contact and sharing needles. The risk of H.I.V. infection by individuals engaging in a basketball game is so low that it cannot be statistically measured”, said M. Roy Schwartz, Vice-President of the American Medical Association (AMA).
The subject gained international projection and the athlete gave up the competition. "The controversy is harming basketball. I give up for one reason only: I do not want to ruin the game that Larry [Bird], Michael [Jordan] and I have helped revitalise”, said the player when he gave up on his return.
Earvin “Magic” Johnson
In 1974, when Johnson made his first outstanding dribbles, Lansing Everett, a journalist from the Lansing State Journal called him “Magic”, since Johnson stood out among his teammates and his team opponents.
Already in the LA Lakers, Magic was one of the players responsible for revitalising NBA, which, during the 80s, was not very profitable and was in decadence. With the help of Magic Johnson, the Lakers won five championships and the athlete won the “NBA Most Valuable Player" trophy in the seasons 1986-87, 1988-89 and 1989-90.
When Magic was in action, the audience cheered and the commentators announced: "It's time for show time”, in reference to the performance of the athlete, which always included tricks that overshadowed and confused the adversaries.
In the years after discovering the disease, Magic was dedicated to prove that a person with HIV "can lead an active life”.
In 1996, as the public grew more informed about the disease, Johnson noticed that the resistance to his return wouldn’t be as strong as it had been before and he decided that it was time to wear the Lakers uniform again.
Karl Malone, the former playmate who had discriminated him, was now more enlightened: "Things are different these days. I no longer have a problem about it”. The, before the definitive retirement, lasted 36 games and many victories.
Not showing signs of stopping, outside the basketball courts, Magic Johnson also became a successful businessman with interests in many areas: he owns cinemas, restaurants, an events company, insurances – companies that made him earn millions of dollars a year.
However, his greatest achievement is still is health. After 20 years, he’s still Aids-free.