HIV-Positive Magic Johnson Still Alive 20 Years Later

Earvin Magic Johnson basketball greets the media at the 2007 Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis 22nd annual Great Sports Legends Dinner held in New York on September 17 2007

An HIV diagnosis convinced Earvin "Magic" Johnson that he would have to retire from playing for the Lakers 20 years ago, but he was back on the basketball court only months after.

In 1991, when Johnson announced he had contracted the HIV virus, many thought he wouldn’t be alive for very long. But today he remains one of the 33 million people living with HIV.

"In 1991, about 10 years into the known epidemic, there were still only a few medications that could be used to treat HIV infections, so most people went on to die within a few years of diagnosis,” said AIDS researcher Dr. David Ho, as quoted by CBS. “And Magic Johnson felt no different from anybody else." 

After his diagnosis, he started the Magic Johnson Foundation, which educated people about HIV and AIDS.

"Magic changed the story line right away,” said Jack McCallum, a writer for Sports Illustrated, as quoted by CBS. “We went from a guy who was -- we were going to watch him die -- well, two months later, he's playing basketball. Three months later, he's in the All-Star game, nine months later, he's captaining the Dream Team in Barcelona. So right away, he changed it from the idea that you were going to wither away to the fact you could prosper.

"Because of being Magic, I think it, rather than being a joke, or something they made fun of, people had to take it seriously, because he was a spokesperson for the game. ... You had to take it seriously when Magic had the disease, and I think he was probably the 'best' person to get it."

McCallum added that Johnson reinforced the fact that with the proper medication, diet, and attitude, anyone with HIV can beat it.

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