OKLAHOMA CITY, March 13, 2012—In November of 1991 my mom picked me up from wrestling practice. I was in eighth grade and maybe the worst wrestler on the planet. When I got in the car my mom asked the usual question of how practice was, was I still terrible, etc.
We pulled out of the school’s parking lot and she said, “Magic Johnson retired today.”
“Oh yeah,” I said mildly surprised but not really paying attention. “He has AIDS,” she said.
The way she said it was like she was setting up a joke. It was very dry and I was waiting for the punchline. It wasn’t funny; it was just such a weird topic. In retrospect, I realize that this was my mom taking the opportunity to have a serious discussion about something that she never thought she would have to have. Notice also that she said AIDS and not HIV. We know now that Magic didn’t, and still doesn’t, have AIDS; he was HIV-positive. She didn’t know, I didn’t know. Few people did.
ESPN Films has done a groundbreaking job over the last couple of years of producing outstanding documentaries about various topics, and have really set the bar. “The Announcement” is the latest from ESPN Films and chronicles Magic Johnson’s announcement that he is HIV-positive and retiring from the NBA.
Director Nelson George introduces the film saying that for a generation, Magic’s announcement was their JFK moment. Where were you when you heard?
Like most of the other documentaries in the series, this one is riveting. Magic narrates along with his wife, Pat Riley, Arsenio Hall and others weighing in. Getting the first hand account of such a life-altering situation gives some great insight into the announcement and its aftermath.
It’s now 21 years later and Magic looks great. One thing the doc focuses on is the unknown of what is going to happen. Don’t you die in a few years when you get HIV? How long before Magic is dead?
At the time, a lot of people didn’t know how to feel about Magic. If we cheer him does that mean we approve of his actions to get the virus? Is he now being celebrated for his lifestyle? There were a lot of questions. It was all so new.
But what it really did was put a face to the virus. Everyone knew who Magic Johnson was, so then everyone knew someone with HIV. Many erroneously thought it was a “gay disease,” but Magic was not gay. His announcement highlighted that anyone can get it, even one of the most famous people in the world. It also made you realize that these guys are just humans, too.
Magic attempted a comeback at the beginning of the 1992 season and only made it through part of the exhibition season. He suffered a cut on his arm during the game, and it was just too big a distraction. Other players, like Karl Malone, expressed concern over playing against a guy that’s HIV-positive, so Magic walked away again.
Malone was criticized, but he was just saying what a lot of others thought. He was scared, and he didn’t know if he could get it through sweat or contact.
But Malone maybe makes the best revelation in the whole documentary. If someone was going to get it, the perfect guy was Magic.
Think about it. You’ve got a top five player in the history of basketball playing in the second largest city in the country for the number one brand in the NBA. A champion with a great personality. A good looking heterosexual guy with a great smile. Out of all the recognizable people in the world, he’s the one that gets this epidemic that can be prevented if people are more educated.
It also makes you wonder if Magic was the only recognizable person to be HIV-positive. I know about Arthur Ashe, but I’m talking real A-list celebrities that didn’t get it through a blood transfusion. No other athletes have gotten it? No actors or current musicians?
Maybe Magic and “The Announcement” educated us on much more than just a virus. Maybe it taught us how to handle announcing it and how to live with it. Not everybody can handle that.
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