It was the fall semester of my 10th grade year in high school and that particular day was going along with business as usual. School was over for the day and I remember being in the locker room getting dressed after another varsity basketball team practice. Someone randomly yelled out that they heard Magic Johnson was about to retire. Keep in mind, this was 1991 and unlike high school students today, we didn’t have the luxury of internet access to verify this ludicrous statement. There was no Google search to be done, no texting, nor TMZ with breaking news. Anyone within earshot simply thought our teammate had to be tripping because there was no way that Magic Johnson was about to retire from the NBA.
Fast forward about two hours and there he stood. Flanked by his wife Cookie, NBA commissioner David Stern, Lakers teammate Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and others, Magic Johnson stood at a podium before rolling cameras and inevitably rocked the world. “Because of the HIV virus that I have attained, I will have to retire from the Lakers today,” the 3-time NBA MVP stated at that unforgettable press conference. This resonated much larger than just a sports story. Here was one of the biggest names in professional sports, standing live on CNN, announcing that he was leaving the game of basketball because he had contracted HIV.
Prior to Magic’s announcement, there was no open and ongoing dialogue about HIV and AIDS. Our government still didn’t have a handle on the disease and the general public was still very much uneducated on HIV, no less AIDS. It had a stigma as being a “gay men’s disease” and the Black community at large knew little about it at that time. Magic Johnson forever changed that fact in just ten minutes. For many, November 7, 1991 marks a time where HIV and AIDS became a reality in our lives.The disease could no longer be thought about as a homosexual disease or one that exclusively impact intravenous drug users. It wasn’t just associated with nameless faces in New York City and San Francisco. This virus was becoming a true epidemic that didn’t know racial and sexual boundaries. Many people’s thinking, especially black folks, was forced to change in 1991. If Magic Johnson could contract HIV, then no one was untouchable. CLICK HERE TO READ MORE