Thirty years ago, Magic Johnson decided to go public with his positive HIV diagnosis. The Nov. 7, 1991, press conference shocked the world into the reality that the HIV crisis could affect anyone, even Showtime himself.
The press conference convened as a pre-emptive announcement after learning that a news outlet would possibly run the story first. According to recounts, the press event was created “hastily” so the then 32-year-old superstar could control the narrative about a condition about which so many had misconceptions at the time.
Still, the world shook as Johnson explained his condition. He was the man with the million-dollar smile and the baubles to match his natural star power.
However, Magic Johnson had a larger purpose, to educate the world on the HIV crisis and provide relatability to a cause tucked away in the corner of public shame.
“It proved to be the right decision,” said Magic Johnson to “CBS Mornings.” “It helped people who were living with not just HIV and AIDS, but with any disease, that you can live on, you can be — live a productive life.”
However, aside from the announcement, Johnson normalized not stigmatizing people with the disease. Johnson still looked like the Showtime Laker that the world loved, and that infectious charisma softened the stigma of HIV.
Then Johnson pushed the world forward when he unretired and returned to professional basketball. Although it doesn’t seem as impactful now, Johnson played on the 1992 NBA All-Star Team, and the “Dream Team” at the Olympics, changing the world’s perspective.
The solidarity of his superstar NBA peers taught the world compassion when there was not a lot of information about the disease. Watching the world’s top basketball competitors re-humanized Johnson, he was Magic all over again, and it made the world better again.
Face For The Faceless
Magic Johnson’s journey helped create a reverberation for non-famous HIV and AIDS patients. People began to lose their fear and listen to the facts surrounding the disease. Because of Johnson, education stopped being taboo, and people judged the willingly ignorant about the disease.
After all, no one wanted to disrespect Magic Johnson, which meant all who have HIV were given the same respect on a wide scale. He used his “magic” to erase the boundaries that separated society.
“I think sometimes we think only gay people can get it. I am saying that it can happen to anybody—even me,” Johnson said during the 1991 press conference. “Life is going to go on for me, and I’m going to be a happy man.”
Ever the showman, Magic Johnson all at once the spokesman for millions with no voice and hushed into shame for their truth.
The Change Maker
— The Shadow League (@ShadowLeague) September 15, 2021
Johnson destroyed the fear associated with HIV, and the wisdom behind getting tested became clear. Compassion can be in short supply in a country that operates from the position of self-interest.
Magic Johnson broke through that mentality, influencing a culture of compassion and acceptance. Now a more significant businessman and the symbol of a blockbuster post-athletic career, Magic Johnson’s perseverance stands as a testament to fearlessness.