Magic Man

For some the defining question is, "Where were you when JFK was shot?"; for others it's, "Where were you when Challenger exploded?"; for others it's, "Where were you when you lost your virginity?"or even "Where were you when O.J. rode in that white Bronco?" (For the record, my answers are: about to fall out of my mommy; in an art class at UTA; um, with my girlfriend, duh; and covering a World Cup game in the Cotton Bowl.) But, as a long-time sportswriter and longer-time fan of basketball in general and Magic Johnson in specific, I'll always remember when time froze 15 years ago.

Walking through the Dallas Cowboys locker room at Valley Ranch on November 7, 1991, I came upon coach Jimmy Johnson, who uttered four words it would take me years to fully comprehend: "Magic Johnson has AIDS." As I recall it was a Thursday, and at the time I thought he'd dead by the weekend. Buddy of mine at The Los Angeles Times at the time told me his editors instructed him to write a Johnson obituary. We all got scared; then we all got tested. I remember taking a poll of Cowboys players asking if they'd play with or against an HIV-positive player, and 80 percent said, "No way."

Then something strange happened.

Five, 10 and now almost 15 years have slipped past, and still no Magic funeral. Not even a Magic hospitalization. Johnson is still very much alive, very much visible and, according to this Washington Post feature, still very much healthy. Magic owns 103 Starbucks, a chain of movie theaters, a 24 Hour Fitness here in Dallas and is a major face on TNT's award-winning NBA studio show.

Currently he is on 10-city, multi-year tour focused on HIV/AIDS awareness among African-Americans. So far, Magic has been to Chicago, Washington and Atlanta. Since organizers say scheduling is "fluid," Johnson may make a stop in Dallas at some point. It says in the story that "the number of new infections--40,000 a year--has not changed since 1990." Magic says he's alive only because of early detection and a dedication to taking his meds.

"In those 15 years, I tell them that a lot of people have died," Johnson says. "In real life, I'm not supposed to be here."

But, I don't know, something twisted might be going on here. Magic is supposed to be the poster boy for being careful and getting tested and all. But given his admitted promiscuity in his 20s and obvious health at age 47, might not he be an accidental role model for, "Aw, go ahead, it's not that dangerous?" Magic even hinted as much in this recent article. Despite all his touring and talking--and certainly I would never wish him gone--I dare say Magic's influence on HIV/AIDS might have been more powerful in death rather than life. Just ask the ghost of Len Bias. --Richie Whitt

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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