When Los Angeles Lakers point guard Earvin “Magic” Johnson took to the podium at a press conference on Nov. 7, 1991, he revealed to the world a secret no one expected to hear: He had contracted HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Monday marks the 20th anniversary of that groundbreaking announcement. On that day, Johnson became the face of HIV, and since then he has moved to raise awareness of early detection and prevention for the disease that was once considered a death sentence.
Back in 1991, his news sent shockwaves through the league. Johnson, a five-time NBA champion, had to face criticism from players and owners who questioned Johnson’s right to play, including Utah Jazz forward Karl Malone, who famously expressed that Johnson could potentially infect other players while on the court.
Not wanting to leave a “black mark” on the league, Johnson would abruptly retire in 1991, only to return to play in the 1992 NBA All-Star game and as a member of the U.S. Dream Team in the Olympics. Amid increasing pressure, he would ultimately retire again before the 1995-96 season, a decision he recently said he regretted.
Off the court, Johnson has raised millions of dollars for HIV and AIDS outreach through his Magic Johnson Foundation. This year, the foundation commemorated Johnson’s work with the MJF: 20 program, which includes special events leading up to the 20th anniversary, including setting up locations where people can receive HIV testing on Nov. 7.
“When God gave me this disease, he gave it to the right person," Johnson told Lakers head athletic trainer Garry Vitt, in 1991. “I'm gonna do something really good with this. I'm gonna beat this.”
The former basketball star is now a businessman, running Magic Johnson Enterprises, which owns movie theaters, Starbucks coffee shops, and brings other businesses to urban neighborhoods. He also works with the Obama administration on community-development issues.
Sadly, 30 years after the AIDS epidemic burst onto the scene, data from the Centers for Disease Control show that Blacks still rank highest among racial groups in the U.S. infected with the HIV virus.
(Photo: Kevin Winter/NBCUniversal/Getty Images))