Magic Johnson: 20 Years With HIV
I was in the fifth grade when the news came out. I knew every member of the Lakers by name, position, and number. Magic Johnson, point guard (and general jack of all awesomeness) number 32, had AIDS. Which meant he was pretty much dead, right?
Obviously Magic didn't (and doesn't) have AIDS - he had contracted HIV, which...as we now know, is the virus which eventually causes HIV. But to a ten year old in 1991, and I think basically everyone else on earth, the news was devastating. Shocking. Confusing. At ten, I didn't want to wrap my head around how Magic Johnson, one of my heroes, had gone about getting this HIV business. He was married. He smiled a lot. He brought the energy in my home town to an eleven every year.
Magic 2011: Courtesy Zuma Press
It wasn't long after his diagnosis that I had tickets to see the Lakers play with a bunch of friends (and a chaperone, no doubt). We were sitting in the nosebleed seats, but we saw on the jumbo tron that Magic was in the house. So we hiked on down. All the way from the nose-bleeds to the floor seats, where naturally we were stopped by Forum staff (this was waaaaay before the Staples Center days) and told to skat.
But Magic saw us -- or more likely heard us -- and he waved us through. The Forum dude (who was probably fourteen, but I was sure he could arrest me) escorted us down and Magic stuck out his hand for a shake.
I was ten. He had AIDS (yes, HIV...but I didn't know the difference yet). I was pretty sure I could die from shaking his hand. So I hesitated. Like the ignorant child that I was.
But Magic waited patiently, hand outstretched. And thank Moses my good manners and common sense took over. Magic was a hero in my mind. A hero wouldn't shake the hands of young girls if it was going kill them. So I shook the man's hand. His massive, strong, how-could-he-possibly-be-dying (he wasn't) hand, and I'll never forget it.
20 years ago, Magic Johnson was the first person I ever knew to contract HIV. Sadly he wouldn't be the last. But in the face of his diagnosis he vowed to teach the world about HIV/AIDS. And he did. And I'm so grateful to know that two decades later that same strong, smiling hero is still out there shaking grade schoolers hands, and planting hope in their minds.
David Aldredge wrote a great piece about the days between Magic's diagnosis and announcement for NBA.com. I hope you'll check it out HERE.