On November 7, 1991, Earvin “Magic” Johnson – five-time NBA champion, three-time league MVP, and perennial all star – took the podium at the Los Angeles West Forum, home to the famed LA Lakers, and made an announcement that no one has since forgotten.
“Because of the HIV virus that I have attained, I will have to retire from the Lakers.”
It was an announcement that shook not just the professional sports world, but the entire country. At that time, little was still known about HIV and AIDS, and Magic was the first widely recognizable person to announce they were positive.
Many assumed that the healthy, 32-year-old basketball player was sure to die.
More than twenty years later, Magic is still alive, still healthy, and still involved in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
On Sunday, ESPN premiered The Announcement, a 90-minute film documenting Magic’s career leading up to that historic day, and the more than two-decades since.
The documentary reminds us that there was one person who played a crucial role in convincing Magic to become a face and a voice for ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic: Elizabeth Glaser.
In the film and during an interview broadcast immediately following the premiere, Magic talked about the important role that Elizabeth played in helping him and his family understand and deal with the unexpected news they had received:
“Once I knew I probably should retire, then I had to decide whether to come public or not and [my wife] Cookie and I discussed it, but Elizabeth Glaser, who was dying of AIDS at that time, was really the person who helped me to first of all deal with my new status of having HIV, and second to help me understand how important my role would be in the HIV and AIDS fight. And she said, ‘You know what, Earvin you need to go public.’ So it was really her educating me about the HIV and AIDS fight and getting me to understand that I could become the face of it and that I could really save a lot of people’s lives if I went public.”
As any friend and mother would, Elizabeth also took time to talk with Magic’s wife, Cookie, and calm her fears about the road ahead. Cookie was pregnant at the time and worried about her unborn child, although they both ultimately tested negative.
“[Elizabeth] helped Cookie, she really settled her down and said, ‘Hey, Earvin’s going to be here for a long time.’ And when she told Cookie that I think it really helped her because in the beginning she didn’t want to go public, she didn’t know how people were going to treat me and respond. So once Elizabeth talked to her then it was okay and that’s why we became public.”
You can catch a replay of The Announcement on ESPN2 at the following times:
- March 15, 8:00pm
- March 17, 8:30am
- March 18, 1:30am
- March 18, 4:30pm
Evan Von Leer is an Online Communications Officer at the Foundation, based in Washington, D.C.