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Students Spellbound : Celebrity: Earvin (Magic) Johnson speaks at Laguna Beach High School about AIDS, his career and the importance of education.

October 19, 1994|DEBBIE KONG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

LAGUNA BEACH — About 400 cheering parents and students packed the bleachers in the Laguna Beach High School gymnasium to hear former basketball star Earvin (Magic) Johnson speak about the importance of education, his career with the Lakers and how he is coping with HIV.

"I talk about HIV to help you to understand that it's out there and it's here to stay, to make you think before doing things," said Johnson, who received a standing ovation from the crowd. "Talk to your teachers. It's not all about having HIV or AIDS. It's about getting somebody pregnant. None of us want to become early parents."

He told the audience that the safest sex was no sex and urged those students who do not abstain to practice safe sex.

Asked by one student how he deals with the human immunodeficiency virus, Johnson said: "I just live. . . . You get up in the morning and you take your medicine and you work out for two hours. You don't have to think about it; it's with you every day. God blessed me with my family, my great health. I'm doing outstanding."

In the hushed gymnasium, one 14-year-old boy told Johnson that "it took a lot of character for you to get up and talk about AIDS the way you did."

Johnson, 35, announced in 1991 that he had tested positive for HIV, which causes AIDS.

Johnson also impressed upon his young audience the importance of education and gave some advice to aspiring basketball players. "Make sure you get your education, because if you don't make it, you've got something to fall back on," he said. "If you don't put 125% into it, you're not going to make it."

During an hourlong question-and-answer session, students wildly waved their hands, eager to be the ones to ask Johnson questions, which ranged from how he got his nickname to whether he missed basketball. The walls were hung with posters welcoming him. Johnson promised one young fan that he would come and play basketball with the Laguna Beach Boys and Girls Club.

Asked who most inspired him, Johnson said it was his father who helped him out the most. "But I think you have to inspire yourself," he said.

He said his goals were to own his own basketball team, have more children and travel around the world.

*

"I think he's great," said Bobby Marquette, 9. "It's nice to know that he cares about other people, not just himself."

"Magic is the epitome of what winning is all about, of making other people around you better and always keeping a smile on your face," Gary Arthur, 40, said as he sat on the floor with his three children, Ryah Sky, 6, Aria Star, 5, and Morea Light, 3.

Arthur clutched two T-shirts that he had brought as presents for Johnson and his wife, Cookie. "A picture with Magic, that would make a huge moment in my life," he said.

Nine-year-old Jensen Gray clutched a piece of paper headed "Dear Magic."

"I wanted to ask him what was it like to be HIV-positive and how are you doing," the youngster said.

Another admirer gave Johnson flowers.

Arthur was equally enthusiastic. "I love the guy. I love what he does, what he stands for, the influence he's had on my life," he said. "He rises to the top; he makes the most of himself."

Arthur even got to ask his hero how he managed to inspire so many.

"The key to making anybody better is first you gotta get out of yourself and into somebody else, because all of us are into ourselves so much," Johnson said. "I always want to see somebody else happy. My mom was the social butterfly in Michigan. If there was somebody sick two blocks down, she was the one cooking for them. I owe it all to my mother."

*

Johnson was in town at the invitation of his longtime friend and City Council candidate Mel Owens. Earlier this week, the city was in an uproar over flyers distributed by Owens' campaign saying that Johnson's speech would be followed by a $90-per-person political fund-raiser hosted by an area gallery. In response to protests from school officials, Owens canceled the fund-raiser so the high school assembly could proceed without involving the Laguna Beach Unified School District in what some might consider a political event.

But a private reception was still held at the gallery after the speech, and though there was no charge, only friends of Owens and Johnson were allowed inside.

As Johnson left the high school gym to attend the reception, he was mobbed by eager young fans clamoring for autographs and handshakes.

"You young people dream," was his final message, "because before you can become what it is you want to . . . you have to dream it. Education is the key, especially now."

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