The Magic Man

Posted: April 30, 2012 in sports
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,


Earvin “Magic” Johnson Jr. was born August 14, 1959.  He’s one of the most recognizable figures not only in the NBA but in the sports world. After having successful campaigns in high school and college, Johnson was selected first overall by the Los Angeles Lakers in the 1979 NBA Draft. In his rookie season he did what no other rookie had done by winning a championship and being named the NBA Finals Most Valuable Player (Had to start at center due to Kareem Abdul Jabbar being out with an injury).He went on to win four more championships with the Lakers during the 1980s. But no playoff series that Magic played would be harder than what he went through with the HIV virus.  

Before 1981 there wasn’t anything in medical publications about HIV. It was around before then but it wasn’t as much of a serious issue to the world. The only way that people thought you could get this was to have intercourse with the same sex. People had this idea that if you weren’t a homo-sexual you wouldn’t have anything to worry about. You might get something that is curable but as far as HIV you won’t get that. This sounds crazy now but back then awareness for this was low.

 L.A., in the 80s, was the spot for high profile celebrities. It was known for being the entertainment capital of the world. But no movie star, music artist or producer was bigger than Magic Johnson. With his play on the court and infectious personality he took the people of L.A. by storm. It was his town and if you were around him in public you knew that. But when you have fame and power you sometimes think that you are invincible. Magic found out the hard way that he wasn’t.

With the success of the Lakers and the big star that Magic had become, the Forum Club (located at The Forum where the Lakers played) became one of the hottest night clubs in the city. According to Chris Rock you could compare it to Studio 54 in Las Vegas. (The Announcement, ESPN Documentary) Anyone who was anyone would be there after the Lakers home games. Rock later on goes to say that it was “The Groupie Capital of The World”.

With the Forum Club becoming the spot for groupies it gives us an idea of what went on there and also what happened after club hours. Magic didn’t just get the virus out of nowhere. He was a big star and women threw themselves at him every minute that he was in the public light. It was a carefree time during the 80s. Have fun at night and don’t worry about it the next day. Thoughts of getting AIDS and HIV didn’t bother anyone. Once again, those diseases were thought to only be something homo-sexual men could get.  

While taking a nap before a pre-season game with the Utah Jazz in Salt Lake City, Utah, Magic received a phone call from the team doctor, Dr. Michael Mellman. Mellman told Johnson that he needed to come back to Los Angeles because he had something important to tell him about the physical that he had taken before the pre-season. After the call Magic hopped on the first flight back to L.A. Back in Utah his teammates thought that he just didn’t want to play because it’s not uncommon for a veteran player to fake and injury or sickness to get out of playing. So they had no idea at all that Magic had HIV.

Dr. Mellman told wanted Magic to come back to L.A. because he felt that telling someone that they have something as serious as HIV over the phone was inappropriate. After Magic’s arrival at Mellman’s office he sat Magic down and told him that he had HIV. A whirl wind of thoughts went through his mind after hearing this. He was not only concerned for his health but also the health of his wife Cookie and his unborn baby.

After Magic found out about having the virus he missed a string of games before even holding the press conference. To cover up being HIV positive he just told everybody that he had the flu. But the longer they strung this out, the more skeptical the media became.  A day before Magic decided he wanted to make it known to the public about his situation his agent got a call from a local radio station and they had a source that claimed he was going to retire from basketball because he has AIDS. They couldn’t keep it a secret anymore and his agent knew that. So he called up Magic and suggested that he hold the press conference that day.

November 7, 1991, Johnson made a public announcement that he would retiring from the NBA.  Dr. Mellman didn’t want him playing because he wasn’t sure if the grind of a long NBA season would weaken his immune system or not. Also they didn’t know if the virus could be spread by anything else other than blood. They did not want to take that chance.

At the press conference Johnson let the world know that his wife Cookie and their unborn child did not have HIV. He also went on to say that he was going to dedicate the rest of his life to help raise awareness for the virus. When this was announced people thought for sure that he’d be dead in months. People were saddened because they’d never expected someone like Magic to get something as horrible as HIV. This press conference, in a way, was one of the first key events where people around the world realize that contracting HIV could happen to anyone.

To further provide awareness for the virus, Magic, not very long after he made his announcement, admitted to having unprotected sex with multiple women throughout his career. At the time, it was uncommon for anyone to contract such a virus from heterosexual sex. The initial thought was that Magic was having relations with other men. He believed many of those rumors were spread by then, Detroit Piston’s star, Isaiah Thomas

Before the press conference it was a lot of tension in the room. When I was looking at clips it was obvious that media was kind of fed up with the whole situation. They just wanted an answer. For Magic to be out two weeks and all of a sudden have a press conference was odd. There was a lot of speculation on what exactly was going on.

A lot of the media didn’t seem to be overly sympathetic towards Magic. When watching the news you’d hear “Earvin “Magic” Johnson has contracted the AIDS virus” after he clearly said he had HIV and not AIDS. They said that Magic was now a statistic. To me that sounds like they were not only anticipating death but also trying to say “we knew that it was only a matter of time before an athlete gets this”. A lot of people in the media twisted his words.  

The regular media differed from the sports media. Obviously the sports media was going to be more sympathetic towards the situation. Their job wasn’t so much to raise questions on how he got the virus and if he was going to be ok. Their role was more so being a comforter. For sports fans’, finding out Magic had HIV was up there with tragedies like the Kennedy assassination. People knew for sure that they were losing their hero and they didn’t want to hear negativity from the sports media.

I think Magic and his camp handled this in the best way possible. They didn’t want the team’s play to be affected by thoughts about Magic having HIV and if he was going to live or not. Also he was able to avoid the bombardment of questions early on. Also he was already stressed out enough about the state of his family so having the whole world knowing early on would be too much for one family to handle. Avoiding the truth gave them some time to gather their facts so that when the time comes for them to make a public statement they’ll already have some answers for any question thrown their way.

When questions were being asked at the press conference you might as well say the reporters were fitting him for his casket suit. He was constantly telling them that he feels great and that his life has changed but he plans on living for a long time. The way people thought about HIV and AIDS back then was that it’s a ticket for the grave.  Everyone was skeptical but really you can’t blame them for thinking the way they did. There were no cases of people who beat it. All you hear was the high percentage of mortalities after getting HIV.

I love this story because it changed the worlds view on sex and how important it is to be cautious about how you handle your sex life. Now we see campaigns to raise awareness, not only for HIV and AIDS, but for many other sicknesses. Magic, even through immorality, still comes out as a hero. His flashy play style, awards, and lovable personality may have put him on top of the sports world  but his mistakes have had a long lasting effect. He said that God gave him the disease for a reason and that reason was to let the world know about this disease and let them that anyone could get it. I think he has done a great job in doing so.



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