The Magic didn’t end 20 years ago

In every youngster’s life there are moments that you remember forever.

One that will always stand out in my mind and resonate deeply occurred Nov. 7, 1991.

I vividly recall being picked up from a day in eighth grade in San Diego by my dad. He looked pale, almost shocked. My friend and I inquired as we hopped into the van.

“Magic Johnson just retired,” he said. “He has AIDS.”

It took me awhile to let this all sink in. The NBA season had just begun, and Magic, 32 at the time, seemed fit and ready to again lead the Lakers, who had lost the NBA title to Michael Jordan’s Bulls in June, in search of another NBA crown.

A big hoops fan at the time, someone whose Bar Mitzvah party two months prior had been surrounded by photos of Magic from my 1989 summer at his basketball camp, I was crushed on so many levels that I didn’t know what to think or say.

On the ride home after dropping off my equally distressed friend, my dad and I listened to Magic’s news conference. I keep remembering his opening words, “Because of the HIV virus which I have atttained…”

Magic Johnson, Nov. 7, 1991Even being only a few months into eighth grade, we had learned in science classes about the difference between HIV and AIDS, so I knew that my dad’s dramatic statement was not entirely accurate, and Magic had not necessarily been handed, as many felt, a “death sentence.” That said, when the Lakers star confidently emphasized he planned to “live for a long time,” I confess I didn’t necessarily believe him.

I knew that HIV turns into AIDS and that, as the coming days showed, most NBA players would not be keen on playing against Magic in intense games where blood sometimes is spilled. Karl Malone was the first to express his fear of competing with Magic. Most other players, though saddened by the news (Michael Jordan claimed he nearly “drove off the road”), felt Magic’s retirement was the proper decision.

The silver linings of this dark day have lasted for two decades – in a positive way. It’s led to advances in AIDS education and research, as well as further clarifying for the public the myths and facts about this potentially deadly disease.

Magic Johnson is still very alive. He has a reported net worth close to $100 million. While many editorials and feature stories of that era bemoaned the fate of Magic, ostensibly writing his obituary, Johnson’s quote in a subsequent issue of Sports Illustrated was correct: “I’ll deal with it.” I still have that issue.

Instead of dying or disappearing, Magic’s “second act of life” has been incredible by anyone’s standards. He hosted an ephemeral late-night talk show, became part-owner of the Lakers, and is a regular sight in public, often in schools, or near his Magic Johnson Theatres in Los Angeles.

Johnson now takes three pills, twice a day. He claims they are “affordable and available for everyone.” And they seem to work, as he’s not getting any sicker. In fact, he’s working 16 hour days at age 51.

He’s also helping others to avoid illness.

Magic Johnson, 2011Magic has invested millions into the inner city through his businesses. His foundation, in addition to its other admirable efforts, is on the verge of opening a seventh AIDS Healthcare Foundation-sponsored clinic, where folks can get their HIV meds for free.

On the floor, Magic returned to play his final NBA All-Star game in February 1992 His 25 points, including a long three-point shot to end the game in classic Hollywood fashion, earned him his second All-Star MVP award. He participated in the original basketball Dream Team during the 1992 Summer Olympics in Spain, leading the USA to the gold medal.

In 1994, when the Lakers were suffering through their worst season since the 1970s, he stepped in as coach for the final 16 games. He returned again to play the last 32 games of the 1995-96 season, averaging 15 points, seven assists, and six rebounds per game. After a first-round playoff loss, he retired for the final time.

With the assistance of other athletes inflicted with AIDS, like tennis great Arthur Ashe, who died of the disease in 1993, Magic has rebuffed the misinformation about how AIDS is contracted and proven that it is not a disease only found in Africa or that it affects only homosexuals and drug addicts. Ashe acquired it from a blood transfusion; Johnson has said he contracted it through a promiscuous heterosexual lifestyle.

Twenty years is a long time. George H.W. Bush was president in 1991, and today’s college sophomores were not even alive. But Earvin “Magic” Johnson most assuredly is.

As LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke recently observed, “Monday is not the 20th anniversary of a death, but perhaps the most stirring rebirth in the history of American sports.”


About AJ Kaufman

A former schoolteacher and military historian, A.J. now works in public relations. As an MSF columnist since 2009, he supports anything baseball-related. Raised in San Diego, A.J. has since resided in numerous parts of America, including Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Ohio and Washington State. After departing the coasts in 2005, he's traveled the back roads of all 50 states and prefers the Heartland. Married to Maria, A.J. is the author of three books and enjoys reading presidential biographies.


  1. Magic was one of a kind, its too bad his career was cut short

  2. boilerdowd says:

    Nice post- his initial retirement began my thoughts that I didn't care about the NBA too much- loved the Magic/Bird then Jordan dominant era of the NBA…the personalities aren't as easy to get behind anymore, for me.

    Magic has had an amazing second career and his health continues to shock me.

  3. Great article,
    It's nice to know he is doing so many good things for other people!

  4. Amanda Lawson says:

    Awesome piece Ari! I was only 3 when he announced he was diagnosed with HIV so I obviously didn't have the same reaction. Very interesting and amazing that he used it to motivate him in a positive way.

  5. I was teaching first grade and the parents were so upset about what to tell the little ones about Magic's announcement…it was not a disease we talked about ..let alone how he might have gotten it……..great article

  6. Wonderful article. My employer at the time shared Lakers tickets and we had 4 of them for the first game after Magic had announced his retirement. We didn't invite anyone to accompany us because we were so sad. The Forum was always fun and full of electricity on a basketball night but that night there was hardly a sound; folks walked around in shock, silently, wounded, grieving. Before the game began, the announcer called out names of the players and when he graciously announced the name of Magic Johnson the arena erupted in a roar of love and sympathy. The applause lasted for at least 6 minutes and it was one of the most moving experiences of my life. He'd come out on the floor to acknowledge the tribute in a business suit, not suited up for a game. Thanks for the memory. I join the throngs in appreciating how he handled himself then, in the intervening years, and now.

  7. boilerdowd
    Got to agree with you dude. Difficult to get behind the personalities in basketball today. The Bird/Magic era was the best!! Looking back at NBA Classics on T.V. makes me realize how lucky we were to enjoy basketball at it's best played by players who knew how to carry themselves. Sad what the league has deteriorated to today. Too many thugs. Happy to see Magic doing so well. Same for Bird. Two special guys who entertained us all with their rivalry.

  8. Maria Janer says:

    Magic shows he is not only a great basketball player, he is a wondeful human being. Great article.

  9. I was a junior at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, and at the time I heard the news flash on tv I was lying on a gurney donating blood in the student lounge. I passed out, and when I gained conciousness the room was silent. Everyone was sad. I wanted to exchange my blood for Magic Johnson's. I wrote a letter to him and his wife Cookie to tell them that I supported them, that I loved them, and that I wished them well. That year I went into Journalism, and I wrote about the life that Magic Johnson had and would continue to have, and that the life is in the blood. I look at the second chance Magic has gotten, and am grateful that he has continued to live the life of one who cherishes life so greatly.

  10. Folks, thanks for all the comments. I was made aware of one correction over and over this week, that, after research, should be noted: AIDS & HIV ARE predominantly, if not wholly, a homosexual disease in nature. I should therefore clarify these lines: "Magic has rebuffed the misinformation about how AIDS is contracted and proven that it is not a disease only found in Africa or that it affects only homosexuals…" If you want more info, I will provide it, but for now, just wanted to make that addendum. Facts are facts.

  11. I think other website proprietors should take this site as an model, very clean and great user friendly style and design, let alone the content. You’re an expert in this topic!

  12. My relatives all the time say that I am wasting my time here at net, however I know I
    am getting experience all the time by reading such nice content.

  13. Hi there all, here every person is sharing these familiarity,
    thus it’s good to read this blog, and I used to pay a visit this web site everyday.

  14. I was recommended this web site by my cousin. I am not sure whether this post is
    written by him as no one else know such detailed
    about my problem. You are incredible! Thanks!

  15. Greetings! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give
    a quick shout out and say I really enjoy reading your articles.

    Can you suggest any other blogs/websites/forums that
    go over the same topics? Thanks for your time!

  16. I loved as much as you’ll receive carried out right here.
    The sketch is attractive, your authored material stylish.
    nonetheless, you command get bought an nervousness over that you wish
    be delivering the following. unwell unquestionably come more
    formerly again since exactly the same nearly a lot often inside case you shield
    this increase.

  17. This info is invaluable. Where can I find out more?

  18. I got what you intend,saved to favorites, very decent site.

  19. you are in reality a good webmaster. The site loading velocity is incredible.
    It kind of feels that you are doing any distinctive trick.

    Furthermore, The contents are masterpiece. you have done a wonderful task on this topic!

  20. I’m not sure where you are getting your information, but great topic.
    I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more.
    Thanks for fantastic information I was looking for this info for my mission.

  21. Simply want to say your article is as amazing.
    The clarity in your post is simply cool and i can assume you are an expert on this subject.
    Well with your permission allow me to grab your RSS feed to keep updated
    with forthcoming post. Thanks a million and please continue the gratifying work.

  22. It’s a shame you don’t have a donate button! I’d most certainly donate to this
    fantastic blog! I suppose for now i’ll settle for book-marking and adding your RSS feed to my Google account.

    I look forward to fresh updates and will talk about this blog with my Facebook
    group. Chat soon!

  23. Howdy! I just wish to give you a huge thumbs up for your great info you’ve got right here on this post.
    I will be returning to your site for more soon.

  24. Excellent write-up. I certainly appreciate this website.
    Keep writing!

  25. For most up-to-date news you have to go to see internet and on web I found
    this web site as a most excellent website for newest updates.

  26. Hi, I think your website might be having browser
    compatibility issues. When I look at your website in Safari, it looks fine but when opening in Internet Explorer, it
    has some overlapping. I just wanted to give you a quick heads up!
    Other then that, very good blog!

  27. That is a really good tip particularly to those fresh to
    the blogosphere. Brief but very accurate information… Thanks for sharing
    this one. A must read post!

  28. Greetings from Los angeles! I’m bored at work so
    I decided to browse your website on my iphone during lunch break.
    I love the info you provide here and can’t wait to take a look when I get
    home. I’m shocked at how quick your blog loaded on my cell phone ..
    I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyways, wonderful site!

  29. I couldn’t refrain from commenting. Very well written!

  30. Good day! I know this is kind of off topic but I was wondering if you
    knew where I could find a captcha plugin for my comment form?
    I’m using the same blog platform as yours and I’m having trouble finding one?
    Thanks a lot!

  31. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good.
    I don’t know who you are but definitely you’re going to a
    famous blogger if you aren’t already ;) Cheers!

  32. It is the best time to make some plans for the future
    and it is time to be happy. I’ve read this post and if I
    could I wish to suggest you few interesting things or tips.
    Maybe you could write next articles referring to this article.
    I desire to read more things about it!

  33. Greetings from Carolina! I’m bored at work so I
    decided to browse your blog on my iphone during lunch break.
    I really like the information you provide here and can’t wait to take a look when I get home.
    I’m surprised at how fast your blog loaded on my mobile
    .. I’m not even using WIFI, just 3G .. Anyhow, excellent blog!

  34. Hi to every one, it’s genuinely a nice for me to
    visit this website, it includes useful Information.

  35. These are truly great ideas in on the topic of blogging.
    You have touched some fastidious points here. Any way keep up wrinting.

  36. This text is priceless. How can I find out more?

  37. I don’t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was good. I don’t know who you are but definitely you’re going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already Cheers!

  38. These are in fact enormous ideas in concerning blogging.

    You have touched some good points here. Any way keep up wrinting.

  39. Hi colleagues, pleasant paragraph and good urging commented at this place, I am actually enjoying by these.

  40. I simply want to mention I’m very new to blogs and really liked this web site. Most likely I’m want to bookmark your blog . You really have superb articles. Regards for sharing with us your web site.

  41. An interesting discussion is definitely worth comment. There’s no doubt that that you need to write more on this issue, it might not be a taboo subject but typically folks don’t discuss such topics. To the next! Many thanks!!

  42. Please let me know if you’re looking for a writer for your weblog. You have some really great posts and I think I would be a good asset. If you ever want to take some of the load off, I’d absolutely love to write some content for your blog in exchange for a link back to mine. Please shoot me an email if interested. Cheers!

  43. Woah! I’m really digging the template/theme of this site. It’s simple, yet effective. A lot of times it’s very difficult to get that “perfect balance” between superb usability and appearance. I must say you have done a very good job with this. Additionally, the blog loads very quick for me on Internet explorer. Excellent Blog!

  44. Can I just say what a comfort to uncover an individual who really knows what they’re talking about over the internet. You actually know how to bring a problem to light and make it important. A lot more people really need to read this and understand this side of the story. I can’t believe you aren’t more popular given that you surely have the gift.

  45. Stunning story there. What happened after? Good luck!

  46. Yesterday, while I was at work, my cousin stole my apple ipad and tested to see if it can survive a forty foot drop, just so she can be a youtube sensation. My apple ipad is now destroyed and she has 83 views. I know this is completely off topic but I had to share it with someone!

  47. Thankfulness to my father who stated to me regarding this webpage, this weblog is really amazing.

  48. Is this a new post? i ask because i think i read the same article a month ago on hubpages.

  49. Great web site you have here.. It’s hard to find good quality writing like yours nowadays. I seriously appreciate people like you! Take care!!

  50. This is really cool info!

  51. Keeping mice, rats, raccoons, etc out of the hay area is essential to keep their feces from contaminating the hay.

  52. I used to be more than happy to search out this net-site.I needed to thanks to your time for this wonderful learn!! I undoubtedly having fun with each little little bit of it and I have you bookmarked to take a look at new stuff you blog post.

  53. I every time used to study paragraph in news papers but now as I am a user of web therefore from now I am using net for content, thanks to web.

  54. Hi there, just became aware of your blog through Google, and found that it is truly informative. I’m going to watch out for brussels. I will appreciate if you continue this in future. A lot of people will be benefited from your writing. Cheers!

  55. Have you ever considered writing an e-book or guest authoring on other blogs? I have a blog centered on the same topics you discuss and would really like to have you share some stories/information. I know my audience would appreciate your work. If you’re even remotely interested, feel free to shoot me an e mail.

  56. You made a number of good points there. I did a search on the subject and found nearly all people will consent with your blog.

Speak Your Mind