Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Jr. (born August 14, 1959) is a retired American professional basketball player who played point guard for the Los Angeles Lakers of the National Basketball Association (NBA) for 13 seasons. After winning championships in high school and college, Johnson was selected first overall in the 1979 NBA Draft by the Lakers. He won a championship and an NBA Finals Most Valuable Player Award in his rookie season, and won four more championships with the Lakers during the 1980s. Johnson retired abruptly in 1991 after announcing that he had contracted HIV, but returned to play in the 1992 All-Star Game, winning the All-Star MVP Award. After protests from his fellow players, he retired again for four years, but returned in 1996, at age 36, to play 32 games for the Lakers before retiring for the third and final time.
Johnson’s career achievements include three NBA MVP Awards, nine NBA Finals appearances, twelve All-Star games, and ten All-NBA First and Second Team nominations. He led the league in regular-season assists four times, and is the NBA’s all-time leader in average assists per game, at 11.2. Johnson was a member of the “Dream Team”, the U.S. basketball team that won the Olympic gold medal in 1992. After leaving the NBA in 1992, Johnson formed the Magic Johnson All-Stars, a barnstorming team that travelled around the world playing exhibition games.
Johnson was honored as one of the 50 Greatest Players in NBA History in 1996, and enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2002. He was rated the greatest NBA point guard of all time by ESPN in 2007. His friendship and rivalry with Boston Celtics star Larry Bird, whom he faced in the 1979 NCAA finals and three NBA championship series, are well documented. Since his retirement, Johnson has been an advocate for HIV/AIDS prevention and safe sex, as well as an entrepreneur, philanthropist, broadcaster and motivational speaker. Named by Ebony Magazine as one of America’s most influential black businessmen in 2009, Johnson has numerous business interests, and was a part-owner of the Lakers for several years. Johnson also is part of a group of investors that purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012.
After a physical before the 1991–92 NBA season, Johnson discovered that he had tested positive for HIV. In a press conference held on November 7, 1991, Johnson made a public announcement that he would retire immediately. He stated that his wife Cookie and their unborn child did not have HIV, and that he would dedicate his life to “battle this deadly disease”. Johnson initially said that he did not know how he contracted the disease, but later acknowledged that it was through having multiple sexual partners during his playing career. At the time, only a small percentage of HIV-positive American men had contracted it from heterosexual sex, and it was initially rumored that Johnson was gay or bisexual, although he denied both. Johnson later accused Isiah Thomas of spreading the rumors, a claim Thomas denied. Johnson’s HIV announcement became a major news story in the United States, and in 2004 was named as ESPN’s seventh most memorable moment of the past 25 years. Many articles praised Johnson as a hero, and former U.S. President George H. W. Bush said, “For me, Magic is a hero, a hero for anyone who loves sports.”
After announcing his infection in November 1991, Johnson created the Magic Johnson Foundation to help combat HIV, although he later diversified the foundation to include other charitable goals. In 1992, he joined the National Commission on AIDS, a committee appointed by members of Congress and the Bush Administration. Johnson left after eight months, saying that the White House had “utterly ignored” the work of the panel, and had opposed the commission’s recommendations, which included universal healthcare and the expansion of Medicaid to cover all low-income people with AIDS. He was also the main speaker for the United Nations (UN) World AIDS Day Conference in 1999, and has served as a United Nations Messenger of Peace.
HIV had been associated with drug addicts and homosexuals, but Johnson’s campaigns sought to show that the risk of infection was not limited to those groups. Johnson stated that his aim was to “help educate all people about what [HIV] is about” and teach others not to “discriminate against people who have HIV and AIDS”. Johnson was later criticized by the AIDS community for his decreased involvement in publicizing the spread of the disease.
To prevent his HIV infection from progressing to AIDS, Johnson takes a daily combination of drugs. He has advertised GlaxoSmithKline’s drugs, and partnered with Abbott Laboratories to publicize the fight against AIDS in African American communities.