Black History Month - Magic’s Magic

Since going public with his status in 1991, Magic Johnson has been a champion for people living with HIV.


When Magic Johnson played Larry Bird in the 1979 NCAA National Championship game, the game was the most-watched college basketball game of all time. His performance that day signaled the beginning of one of the greatest NBA careers of anyone to have ever played the game. He won five NBA Championships, including a title his first year in the league.  He set records nearly every time he stepped on the court. He won Olympic gold with the 1992 “Dream Team,” still one of the greatest teams ever assembled. He was, without a doubt, a sports superstar.

But that’s not why he’s magic.

On November 7, 1991, Magic Johnson told the world that he had HIV. He made the decision to go public with his status, to increase awareness about the battle he had been forced to undertake.

In 1991, HIV was still considered to be a death sentence. Every single day, more people lost their lives to AIDS. There were so few drugs available, so little knowledge about how HIV was transmitted. It was reported that Magic lost friends that day – and some of his former teammates refused to play with him when he returned to the NBA. Rumors about how he obtained the HIV virus swirled through the media.

He looked to Elizabeth Glaser for advice, and in an interview with “The View” in 2012, Magic said that Elizabeth told him, “'Look, you're going to have to be the face of this disease.’” Elizabeth was fighting her own battle against HIV, but she knew that Magic could be the person to push HIV to the forefront. She later said that because of his willingness to go public, “now everyone knows someone who has HIV.”


Magic didn’t have to go public with his status. Most people didn’t. Most people still don’t. Over 30 years since the beginning of the epidemic, there is still a deep stigma against HIV, and the people living with HIV.  But he did. He took on the role as a spokesperson for people living with HIV. He created a foundation focused on helping people living with HIV. His wife, Cookie Johnson, became an outspoken advocate for communities battling HIV.  We’re proud to honor her for her efforts at our Global Champions of a Mother’s Fight Gala this week.

Because of Magic, the needs of people living with HIV gained prominence. Researchers focused on creating the drugs people living with HIV need to stay alive. The public learned about how HIV is (and isn’t) transmitted.  Because of Magic Johnson, hundreds of thousands of lives were saved.

If you ask me, that’s pretty magical.

Jane Coaston is Media Relations Coordinator for the Foundation, based in Washington, D.C.