I remember exactly where I was when I heard it.
I had just gotten home a few minutes ago from a typical November high school day, and my friend Marc Goldberg called my house.
“Turn on the TV, quick!” Magic Johnson is going to announce he has AIDS!”
I literally could not believe what he was saying that day, 20 years ago Monday. Magic Johnson, the incredible point guard from the Lakers? My favorite NBA player ever (at that point)? AIDS???
I couldn’t process it. But then I flipped on CNN, and there he was, saying he’d contracted the HIV virus, and was retiring from the Lakers.
Let’s be honest: If you took a poll that day of Americans, I guarantee you a majority would’ve said Johnson would be dead by now. HIV and AIDS were thought to be a death sentence in 1991. We had seen the last of the strong, virile Magic Johnson, and the next several years would bring the withering away of a basketball legend.
Except, of course, it didn’t happen that way. He fought the disease, attacking it like a double-team, and two decades later is an amazing success story. Magic is a successful entrepreneur, wildly wealthy, and has given back to the African-American community 100 times over.
He is living proof that you can beat this disease. Yes, of course, Magic had access to the best doctors, the best medicine and treatment, etc., because of his fame and fortune. And it’s tragic that millions die each year of AIDS because they don’t have the kind of access he had.
But for the past 20 years Magic has been a vibrant, living symbol of joy and hope and success, and for that, we should all celebrate him.
Here’s a great story by SI writer Jack McCallum on the 20-year anniversary of the announcement, and for you young’uns who want to see how good Magic really was, check this out:
**So I’m in a bar Monday night at one of Jeff Pearlman’s book signings for his Walter Payton tome (four weeks on the NYT Bestsellers list!), and I start talking to his friend Aaron. Aaron used to be in a group called Bad Ronald, and he had written a rap song for Jeff’s book called “Sweetness.” He now goes by the name DJ White Owl.
As we’re standing in the bar chatting, the song comes out over the speakers for all of the bar to hear.
And I’ve always thought that for a singer that must be an amazing feeling: You put your heart and soul into music, and then one day you hear it in public.
So I said to him, “Is that the coolest thing, to hear your song in public like that?”
And he smiled.
“It’s great, but what’s better than that? Driving in your car, flipping the radio dial, and hearing your song. Nothing’s better than that.”
Man, I would love that feeling some day.
**Finally, this amused me. A writer from the website metafilter.com asked foreigners living in the U.S. what they thought some of the quirkiest things about American customs and personal habits are. Read some of the really funny answers here. I liked this one the best:
“Everyone complains bitterly about the suckitude of government and is suspicious of it but they all follow the rules anyway even if nobody is watching.”