It was nearly 20 years ago that Irvin Magic Johnson announced he would be retiring from the Lakers because of his HIV-positive status. “Because of the HIV-virus that I have attained I will have to retire from the Lakers today,” he announced with the world watching live at a press conference on Nov. 7, 1991. But he now says, in hindsight, he wishes he hadn’t retired, because he was able to stay healthy.
Just seven miles away from the former home of the Lakers, Johnson recounted his experience finding out he was HIV-positive with LA Times columnist Bill Plaschke at Loyola Marymount University earlier this week. (h/t Black Voices)
“If I knew what I know now, I wouldn’t have retired,” Johnson said. “But I didn’t know that then. And you’ve just got to go with what happened.”
Johnson went on to say he retired because he didn’t want to hurt the game, he recounted stories of teammates and opponents being afraid he could spread the disease through simple contact.
Magic’s public announcement of being HIV positive is largely acknowledged as a crucial turning point in the black HIV/AIDS epidemic, in particular. For many, it was the first real acknowledgement that the epidemic didn’t affect only white gay men. Since then, his success in treatment has been both helpful and frustrating for people doing awareness work in the black community. On one hand, his story offers an ideal example of how getting tested and getting into care can save lives. On the other hand, conspiracy theorists have consistently pointed to Johnson’s health as a sign that HIV either doesn’t exist or isn’t a big deal.
Notably, in his conversation with Plaschke, Johnson talks about the hard work he had to do to stay healthy, and the support he needed from his wife, Cookie Johnson.
A clip of the 1991 press conference where Johnson announced his status is below along with more clips from his one-on-one talk with Plaschke.