On November 7th, 1991, Earvin “Magic" Johnson sent shockwaves through the basketball community and the world when he announced his abrupt retirement from basketball due to contracting HIV. In an instant, the Los Angeles Lakers superstar’s life had transformed.
Speaking with Gayle King on CBS Mornings, Johnson reflected upon his journey 31 years later, CBS News reported.
"You just sit there and say, what does this mean? Am I gonna die?'"Johnson recalled.
At the time of his diagnosis, Johnson and many others believed his diagnosis was a death sentence.
“I had to really learn a lot about the disease, HIV as well as AIDS,” he remembered. “I had to make sure that I was open-minded enough to ask a lot of questions and get a lot of information from different people.”
As he prepared for the start of the 1991-92 NBA season, Johnson learned that he contracted HIV in a routine physical. After flying to a pre-season game with Utah Jazz, he was called back to Los Angeles so that Dr. Michael Mellman, the team physician for the Lakers, could give him the life-changing news in person. As expected, he was “devastated” when he learned of the news.
"I'm asking him 100 times, 'Are you sure?'"Johnson recalls asking the doctor. "And they say, 'Hey, we ran the tests a couple of times, and yes, you do have HIV.' And so I just lost it right there, you know?"
Although Mellman informed him that he had a chance to live for a long time with all the new drugs that were being developed at the time, the most challenging aspect of his diagnosis, he said, was having to tell his wife Cookie about the virus, who he married the month prior.
"It was hard because I loved her so much and I hated to hurt her," he said.
When Johnson delivered the news to Cookie, she was concerned about their newborn child.
"It wasn't how he got it that was important to me,” she said. “It was, 'You're possibly going to die.' And that trumped everything," she told CBS News.
Johnson expressed his relief when Cookie’s and the baby's test results came back negative.
"Yes, because I was scared to death," he said. "I wanted to make sure that she was gonna be OK, the baby was gonna be OK, and then I could move forward with trying to make sure I was gonna be OK."
Initially, Cookie did not want Magic to have a public press conference to announce his short-lived retirement because of the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.
"At that time, people weren't educated. So they thought you couldn't touch people, you couldn't hug people," she said. "And I didn't want people to treat us like we were lepers."
After going public with his diagnosis, Johnson launched the Magic Johnson Foundation to raise awareness about the virus. And then, he began lobbying Congress and the White House to invest more money for education and to fight the disease.
But his passion for the game was still alive and he eventually made a comeback.
He was voted onto the NBA All-Star team in 1992 without playing a single game and would play in the U.S. Olympic "Dream Team" in Barcelona, Spain.
"It proved to be the right decision," he said. "It helped people who were living with not just HIV and AIDS, but with any disease, that you can live on, you can live a productive life."
He would retire again, make another comeback before officially calling it quits in 1996.
Since that time, Johnson has become a successful businessman as CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises. He’s currently a co-owner of the Los Angeles Sparks and Los Angeles Dodgers, and boasts a portfolio that estimates his net worth at over $600 million
While his HIV is still undetectable, he still takes his medication every day.
"A cocktail, once a day," he said. "It went from three times a day, to now just once. And so everything is great."