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HIV & SPORTS: What Have We Learned? | SPECIAL REPORT

'I'm Not Going to Stop Being Me'

November 03, 1996|MAGIC JOHNSON | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

On Nov. 7, 1991, Magic Johnson announced that he was HIV-positive and was retiring from the Lakers. Since then, he has returned to the team twice and retired again twice. He has toured the world with an all-star basketball team and become a Laker part-owner and a successful businessman, opening a movie theater complex in the Crenshaw district among other ventures. At the request of The Times, he provided this reflection on the last five years.

*

For me, HIV isn't anything to think about. You know it's there. You just live with it. There is so much to do in a day and a week and a month and a year.

But my son Andre is 15 years old, and he wants to know about it. He doesn't ask me if I'm going to die. He asks me, "How are you dealing with this? Are you going to be around for a long time?"

That's his way of asking if I'm going to die, I guess.

I tell him, "I'm going to be here because I want to see you grow. I'm building these companies for you. I want you to go on and take them from there."

At first I was scared. I think anybody would be scared, but I was confident too. Just like I am today. That's why I'm doing so well.

The only low points over the past five years for me were when I didn't know if Cookie was going to stay with me and whether my baby was going to be all right. Other than that, there were no low points.

When I was coming home from the doctor after finding out (the test results), the question was: How do I tell Cookie and how is she going to respond?

You don't know. I'd be a fool to sit here and say I just knew she was going to respond a certain way and that she was going to still be there. Nobody knows how someone will react when you tell them you have HIV.

When I told her, I said she could go if she wanted to.

Pow! I got hit in the head.

"I've been with you through everything," she said. "I told you I was going to be with you through everything. I love you so much. I'm not going anywhere. We are going to do this together."

That was it. I knew then that HIV would be no problem to deal with. But if I didn't have her, then I don't know where I would be right now. I needed her.

All my life, I really haven't needed anybody. But I realize Cookie was the only one who understood Earvin. She knew me before all this happened. She knew which buttons to push to make me click, what to do when I'm in a certain mood and so on because we know each other so well.

It's beautiful to have the person you love most in this world, along with your parents and your children, sitting right up there with you.

Everything I do now is for them. I've had my glory, the championships and all that. Now all I want is for my children to have everything I never had as a child. I want to give Cookie the life she deserved a long time ago.

You got somebody like Cookie at your side, and then you've got them three little ones yelling, "Daddy, Daddy, Daddy," you can't help but make it.

*

I don't feel sick or tired or anything. I start at 7:30 in the morning. I work out at the gym. Then I go play basketball from 9 to 11. Then I go into the office, where I might have four or five meetings scheduled in a single day. Unless we have a social engagement at night, I'm probably in bed by 10:30 or 11, but I don't get to sleep until after I watch my sports. So it's maybe midnight by the time I get to sleep. Then, I'm up at 6 or 6:15 and back at it again.

I work out five days a week. I've never gotten sick. I'm not worried about that. You know what you've got to do. You stay healthy, you work out all the time, which I love to do anyway, you eat right, you take your medicine and you just deal.

I wasn't a sickly person at the beginning. My immune system has always been strong. And it has stayed strong all the way through. That's the key right there.

If I couldn't play basketball for two hours straight, if I couldn't lift weights for an hour, then I would know that something was up.

My work schedule keeps me very busy.

I've got to look at how much popcorn we sold at my theaters and how many customers came through the door. I've got to see how we can increase that business. Now my Atlanta theater is opening. Houston is getting ready to open. We are trying to start 10 others around the country, so now I've got meetings with mayors, meetings with council people, meetings with community leaders and new sponsors, and so on.

Then there are the Lakers. You've got to make sure that these guys take care of business. You talk to them: "How are you doing?" "How does it feel to be with the team?" You watch them closely to see if everything is going right. If it's not, you see where you can help, but, at the same time, staying out of the way to let them get their own identity.

Then I look at my shopping centers and try to figure out how we can increase the business.

Then I've got my T-shirt company and I have to keep track of how many football T-shirts were sold. And there's the tennis shoe company, MVP. OK, where can we fit into the market? Where can we get our little niche?

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