LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — Twenty-five years after announcing he was HIV-positive, Lakers legend Magic Johnson on Monday recounted how his life has changed since that time and reaffirmed his plans to continue living a full life as he battles the virus.
On Nov. 7, 1991, Magic revealed to a shocked national TV audience that he was HIV-positive and would be retiring from the Lakers. That moment became a focal point in the national dialogue about HIV/AIDS, raising awareness of the virus that afflicts more than a million people in the U.S.
At the time, an HIV diagnosis was considered a death sentence. But Johnson’s longevity has done much to change that perception in recent years.
“In 1991, about 10 years into the known epidemic, there were still only a few medications that could be used to treat HIV infections, so most people went on to to die within a few years of diagnosis,” Dr. David Ho, who has overseen Johnson’s care, told CBS News on the 20th anniversary of Magic’s HIV announcement. “And Magic Johnson felt no different from anybody else.”
Still, Johnson made it clear from the outset that he would approach the disease in his own, unquestionably competitive way.
“I’m going to beat it,” he told a room of stunned reporters. “And I’m going to have fun.”
Johnson knew his life would forever be changed. As his professional basketball career was coming to an end, Johnson decided to focus on business and philanthropic pursuits. He also accepted that he was perhaps the biggest celebrity to be living with HIV.
“I will now become a spokesman for the HIV virus,” he said in the announcement. “I want young people to know they can practice safe sex … Sometimes you’re a little naive and think it can’t happen to you.”
Johnson soon began treatment and created the Magic Johnson Foundation in 1991 to help educate people about HIV and AIDS.
Johnson returned to the basketball court to win an Olympic gold medal with the Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics, in addition to stints playing and coaching for the Lakers. Johnson would also acquire a stake in the team, which he later sold. Johnson is also a part-owner of the Dodgers and an NBA commentator.
On Monday, Johnson recounted his twenty-five years living with HIV.
“November 7, 1991 was a life changing day that I never saw coming,” he said in an essay on his website. “Up until then, I thought the hardest thing I’d ever done was play against Michael Jordan or Larry Bird, but on this day I began the fight of my life.”
“I felt it was my duty to educate as many people as I could about the disease,” he continued. “Today, I continue to do everything I can to bring awareness and education about this disease to the community.”
He credited Ho for developing a treatment regimen that includes medication, exercise and a positive attitude.