It was 20 years ago today that Magic Johnson announced to the world that he was retiring from the game of basketball because he had contracted HIV. One of the greatest players of all time had to leave the game he loved because he now had a disease that meant he would be dead in a few years. But Magic isn’t dead. To the outside observer, he’s doing great, he’s just as healthy as everyone else.
I was 6-years old when Magic made his announcement to the world. I don’t remember it at all. All my opinions of him were ones I formed years later. I think of Magic as a hero. Someone who stared death in the face, laughed and said, “I can beat you.” And so far he has. Growing up, I learned how bad HIV and AIDS are and what it can mean for your health and your life. I thought of it as the worst kind of disease you could get, and to watch someone going through that with a smile on his face was inspiring.
As a Los Angeles sports writer, it meant even more to Bill Plaschke, who wrote an amazing piece for the L.A. Times.
“It was our Kennedy assassination moment, our Challenger space shuttle moment, a moment when the Southland lost its sports innocence … I was home on vacation after spending the summer covering the Dodgers for this newspaper. I was watching television while my two young children played in the background. Soon they were crying because their father was crying, and at the time I didn’t even know Magic Johnson.”
To this day, I’m still in awe of the fact that Magic never seems to tire of fighting for his cause. He’s put millions of dollars into trying to find a way to make sure other people who are unfortunate enough to contract this disease can live for as long as he has. I can’t even imagine the strength it takes to fight that fight, but I’m glad he’s so committed to doing it, and I continue to hope that some day, AIDS will be a thing of the past.