In the 1980s and early 90s, three superstars elevated the NBA to a new level: Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and Magic Johnson. By 1991, Johnson was easily the most successful of the three. He had won five championships compared to Bird’s three and zero for Jordan. On November 7, 1991 Magic shocked the world by announcing he would have to retire due to contracting the HIV virus.
The news was stunning yet a grim reality: A superstar athlete was not immune to the HIV virus. Because very few heterosexual men had contracted the virus at the time, many people assumed Magic was gay. According to Johnson, he got the virus due to the large number of sexual partners he had during his playing career.
Whatever the culprit was, Johnson’s announcement brought an awareness to HIV and AIDS that had not previously been seen before. By the end of the day after the announcement, the National AIDS Hotline had recorded 40,000 calls, more than ten times their normal daily amount (Leehrsen, 1991).
Other studies have been done indicating that Johnson’s announcement had an impact, especially on younger people. In a survey done in 1993, 61% of respondents stated they had changed their attitudes about AIDS (Hollander, 1993). 44% of the responders to Hollander’s survey also reported using condoms after the announcement.
Johnson went on to dedicate a lot of his own personal time to the cause. He created the Magic Johnson Foundation to help fight HIV and AIDS and was the speaker for the United Nations World AIDS Day in 1999. His biggest feat is that he made millions of people more aware of the deadly virus and made them realize that it was not specific to homosexual men or drug addicts as previously believed.
The story has a happy ending too. Johnson would go on to play in the 1992 NBA ALL-Star game where he was named MVP as well as being a part of the 1992 Olympic Dream Team. He remains alive and healthy today and has gone on to be a highly successful businessman. HIV and AIDS awareness is far stronger now than it was in 1991, thanks in some ways to Johnson’s brave announcement.