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On This Date in Sports November 7, 1991: Magic and HIV

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

The sports world is stunned, as Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers announces that he has HIV, the virus which causes AIDS and subsequently retires from the NBA. Magic Johnson would return for the NBA All-Star Game, winning the MVP in February. He would also play on the Dream Team, winning a Gold Medal in Barcelona. The HIV diagnosis would be monumental as it helped educate that AIDS could be caught by straight men and helped redefine AIDS education, as it brought the disease into a new spotlight. 

Ervin Johnson was born on August 14, 1959, in Lansing, Michigan. The son of a GM assembly worker earned the nickname Magic as a sophomore in high school. He went to nearby Michigan State and led the Spartans to an NCAA Championship in 1979. Selected first overall by the Los Angeles Lakers, he won an NBA Championship one year later, capping his rookie season with an NBA Finals MVP.

Over the next decade, Magic Johnson became one of the biggest stars in the NBA, continuing a rivalry with Larry Bird that began with the 1979 Championship Game when Bird was at Indiana State. The rivalry between Bird’s Boston Celtics and Magic Johnson and the Lakers helped revitalize the NBA. Magic Johnson led Los Angeles to five NBA titles, winning two of three series against the Celtics. 

The Lakers had another run to the NBA Finals in 1991, losing to the Chicago Bulls in five games, as Magic Johnson handed the mantle of the league's biggest star over to Michael Jordan. Johnson was 32 and was still among the top players in the NBA. He was named a member of the 1992 Team USA Basketball for the Olympics. The first time that professionals were to play in the Olympics, a team nicknamed the Dream Team. When the 1991/92 began, the Lakers struggled, losing two of their first three games. All three games went to overtime, and all three games were missing Magic Johnson, who was out with a non-disclosed injury. That changed on a Thursday afternoon when Magic Johnson called a press conference to announce his retirement. 

Magic Johnson had been diagnosed with HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus), the virus that causes AIDS.  The disease first rocked the gay community a decade earlier. The disease transmitted through blood and other bodily fluids was viewed as a gay disease that straight men were not at risk. The announcement that Magic Johnson had HIV was a wake-up call that anybody could get HIV. In his press conference, Johnson stated that he would begin a campaign to raise awareness and education for AIDS research. 

When Magic John announced he had HIV, it was assumed that it was a death sentence, and AIDS had been a deadly disease with no cure. There were new drugs that were effective at slowing the virus's progression, but most that announced they had it were in the later stages of the disease, as Freddy Mercury, the lead singer of Queen, succumbed to AIDS less than a month after Magic's announcement. 

Magic Johnson would play again, winning the All-Star Game MVP after being selected as a starter three months after his press conference. He also played well in the 1992 Olympics. However, an attempted comeback was ended in 1992, when several players, including Olympic teammate Karl Malone, expressed concerns about playing against Magic Johnson. Magic later coached the Lakers in 1994 and eventually returned briefly in 1996, playing 32 games before retiring again. 

The NBA made a significant rule change when Magic Johnson made his announcement. They ruled that any player that was bleeding or had blood on the uniform had to leave the game until the bleeding was stopped and the blood was taken off the uniform. The Magic Johnson HIV diagnosis became a significant turning point in AIDS education and research, as Johnson made good on his promise to shed light on the risks of unprotected sex for even straight men. The drug trials that Magic Johnson participated in have been effective as he is alive and well 30 years later, not showing any progression of the disease. Thanks to these drug cocktails, HIV has become treatable in many cases, with hopes for a cure seemingly close at hand.