Earvin “Magic” Johnson will always be known as one of the greatest winners in NBA history. Magic was the engine that led the Lakers to five World Championships and who knows how many more it could’ve been. However, none of those five titles even represent his greatest victory in life. It was 20 years ago yesterday when Johnson shocked the world with his announcement that he was HIV-positive. At that time, knowing what the world knew about the subject, it didn’t look good. It looked like the first time Johnson wouldn’t come out victorious in a battle. Yet like always, Magic fought, battled, and showed just how strong he is. At 52 years-old Magic looks healthy, he is tremendously successful, and has done a great job with awareness on the subject. Something that 20 years ago yesterday looked nearly impossible.
A.C. Green joined The Fan 590 in Toronto with Jeff Blair to talk about how he was feeling when Magic Johnson made the announcement 20 years ago that he had AIDS, what that morning was like leading up to the announcement, how hard it was for him to not be judgmental because of his stance on abstinence before marriage, and whether or not he noticed players changing how they acted after the announcement.
How he reacted when Magic Johnson made the announcement that he had AIDS:
“Well Jeff, we of course, we had a pre-conference meeting where it was just the team before that announcement. When we heard it in the locker room and we spoke to Magic, who was the one that gave us that particular message there were similar thoughts because as you’ve stated we just didn’t know a lot. We weren’t as well educated or as informed and so we equated that particular virus, the HIV virus, full blown AIDS, the next stage, and fatality being the third and final chapter basically. There were a lot of tears when he shared that news. This was the same locker room that we won many championships because of him. We’re sitting there as a full team, Jerry West the GM, Dr. Buss is in this room, our trainers of course, there’s just all of our Laker family there so when he said we didn’t know what to make of it, what to think of it. Yes your mind will race instantly and did as eyes sort of shifted as he released those words. ‘Guys I’m gonna have to retire because of this.’ Eyes started to shift because I was like ‘is he serious?’ But everyone is there and you knew he had to be for real about it. From the shifty eyes, eyes started to well up because guys realized he’s being real and it’s not a joke and so it was a tough moment for sure.”
What the morning before the announcement was like and how the team found out that there was going to be an announcement of some sort:
“What happened was we normally have a 9:30 practice time and our practice is normally at Loyola Marymount University out here in the west part of Los Angeles so the team, we’re basically at Loyola at 8:30 or almost 9ish and guys are just getting taped or getting stretched and doing the pre-practice stuff. Coach Dunleavy, as we’re still gathered together, Coach Dunleavy and Gary Viti, they sorta bring everybody together and say ‘you guys come here for a moment, we need to head over to the Forum because we have a mandatory team meeting and there’s an announcement we need to talk about.’ Nothing was disclosed at that time so we basically left practice knowing that there was something or some news that we had to be a part of. We’re sorta thinking another press conference about who knows what? We weren’t too sure. On that drive over which was all of ten minutes, there was no inkling about what we were about to walk in on. As we walked into the locker room and we started to see some of our upper management and our owner then we knew that there was something big but we didn’t know exactly how big and of course the full impact of what we were about to hear.”
On how hard it was for him to be non-judgmental because he practiced abstinence until marriage:
“It’s a great question and I think even in that time Magic, as he made the announcement in the locker room to us, after he said what he did guys wanted to embrace him because we’re thinking of our friend, we’re thinking of our captain, we’re thinking of our leader so we wanted to embrace him and say ‘hey what do you need? How can I help you?’ Showtime was a team full of sacrifices, win at all cost first and foremost, and that’s what the idea was. So if anybody could’ve traded positions, we would have traded positions with him but we knew that still wasn’t going to solve the problem. That particular morning, the one thing that I will always remember, not just the announcement, but Magic asking me to come into one of our little private side rooms and saying I just need to get out of that atmosphere for a moment and let’s say a prayer. It wasn’t abnormal because he and I both had a common bond, a very religious background and upbringing through our parents so that was sort of a common thing for us. It was something that meant a whole lot to him. Away from that announcement, away from everyone amongst the team just to get a breather and connect with his faith and ask for some help from above. That factor plus the second factor of just how competitive and how much Magic wants to win, Earvin has always been I want to be first, I want to win. Not in a sense of it’s about him, but his competitive zeal is he wants his team to be first and the best. With that being said that’s why me personally, I sorta believed it when he said guys I’m gonna find a way to beat this, I’m gonna find a way to win and beat this thing. We all knew what we had heard, what the media had side outside of Earvin about the HIV virus, about AIDS, and everything along that line. So when he made that it didn’t seem impossible, it didn’t seem ridiculous to me because of those two other primary factors: his faith and his competitiveness to win.”
Whether or not he noticed guys acting different after Johnson’s announcement:
“I noticed that a lot of guys were more aware of what they were doing and thinking a little more responsibly about what they were thinking about doing or in the middle of doing. It brought a greater awareness to the world, to our profession. At that time, in the next month, condom sales through Trojan had reached an all-time high. There was a big, big impact of people thinking about okay if this can happen to him, is it possible this can happen to me?”