Twenty years ago Monday (Nov. 7), Earvin “Magic” Johnson, a basketball superstar, stunned the world when he announced that he was HIV positive.
“Because of the HIV virus that I have attained, I will have to retire from the Lakers today,” said Johnson in a press conference. “I just want to make it clear, first of all, that I do not have the AIDS disease.”
And, 20 years later, Johnson is still living with the virus, which he’s managed with medication. Though when he was diagnosed, during a routine insurance physical, his outlook was hardly cheery. When Johnson was diagnosed in 1991, treatment options were limited, AIDS researcher Dr. David Ho tells CBS News, and the star basketball player was faced with the possibility of living only a few years.
“I plan on going on, living for a long time, bugging you guys like I always have,” said Johnson in 1991.
And that indeed turned out to be the case. Johnson kept up with the latest research, taking new drugs as they became available — which has helped him keep the HIV under control and allowed him to live a relatively normal life. He also created the Magic Johnson Foundation to help educate the public about HIV and AIDS.
“The sports world was in medieval times with HIV and AIDS,” Sports Illustrated writer Jack McCallum tells CBS News. “And here … it comes upon the most magnetic personality. It just seemed like sort of an existential joke, and it forced everyone to take a look at the issue, I think, honestly, in our society for the first time.”
Below, watch the video of Johnson’s 1991 announcement: