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Magic Johnson: HIV is Not a Death Sentence - 2001-11-08

Wednesday marked the 10th anniversary of former Los Angeles Lakers' superstar Earvin "Magic" Johnson's announcement that he has HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Johnson says he has learned how to live with HIV and does not consider he is dying from the disease.

Magic Johnson made the announcement November 7, 1991, and left the Lakers' basketball lineup at age 32. However in February of 1992, he played in the NBA All-Star game and was voted the game's Most Valuable Player. Johnson also helped lead the U.S. Olympic team to the gold medal in Barcelona in August of 1992.

Magic said in an interview with ESPN television that he saw overcoming the disease as a challenge, similar to taking on the top competitors in the NBA.

"Once I understood what I had to do to beat it [HIV], then the fear went away. And I was not scared any more," Mr. Johnson said. "I was saying ' Hey, okay. I played against the very best in Larry [Bird] and Michael [Jordan]. I went up against them. So why can't I go against HIV and win?'"

After his first retirement, Johnson coached the Lakers, worked as a television analyst and a talk-show host. Magic is now a vice-president of the team and has opened a series of successful business ventures - including a chain of movie theaters, Starbucks Coffee stores, and TGI-Friday's and Fatburger restaurants.

He has continued to take anti-viral medication and says that he has found more tolerance for people with HIV than 10 years ago when he was diagnosed.

"I think a lot of progress has taken [place] even in the NBA and the other leagues have been educated," he said. "Because before when I made my comeback you remember everyone was like "Oh! I do not want to play against him [Magic]." That hurt me. And I do not experience that any more. And so that's a good thing."

Retired basketball great Magic Johnson says he has learned that a diagnosis of HIV is not a death sentence, and that he hopes to speak for those who have no voice in the public arena.