It was 20 years ago today, November 7th, that Ervin Magic Johnson announced that he had HIV and was going to retire from the NBA. I can’t tell you I remember seeing him make the announcement or that I was glued to the television, but I can remember less than a week later being at a local sports card shop with my friend Mike and what I said that fateful day. Mike was looking for baseball cards and I – who didn’t really care much about sports memorabilia – was wandering around the store looking for something of interest. I remember seeing a Magic Johnson rookie card in thick plastic casing on a spinning display case and having the following exchange with my friend.
Me: Hey Mike, do you think I should get this Magic Johnson card, do you think it’s going to be worth anything?
Mike: It might be, you gonna buy it?
Me: Well he’s going to be dead soon right? So it might be worth something pretty quick.
The entire shop froze like I had just farted, cursed Jesus and dropped my pants all at the same time.
People gave me looks, not just of disgust, but pain, and in one older guy’s face I swear he looked like he was going to cry. I was a stupid high school kid at the time, so you can’t blame me for being insensitive. But, the larger sentiment and the belief shared by everyone in that shop at the time was that AIDS was an automatic death sentence. And no matter how insensitive, or rude or ghoulish my statement about Magic was, everyone in the room solemnly agreed and believed he’d be dead in the next few years.
Such was our belief about HIV at the time.
Yet, here he is 20 years later, alive, kicking and looking pretty good despite various conspiracy theories about him and the passing of several other major celebrities to HIV. Magic is still around, still offering pointless commentary on the now lockout-delayed Inside the NBA on TNT. Many public health officials credit Magic with raising awareness about HIV and I have no doubt that he did, but I think his impact runs a bit deeper than that in the African American community. Magic’s successful philanthropic and economic impacts after his retirement, as well as his continued activism on behalf of those living with HIV is a testament to anyone out there living with AIDS that your infected life can be just as powerful as your pre-HIV life. A lesson that could really apply to any disease or any challenge that can hit you in the prime of your life.
This article originally appeared at Politic365.com.