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Magic Johnson celebrates 20 years of living with HIV

On Nov. 7, 1991, the Lakers star announced that he was retiring because he had the virus that causes AIDS. Johnson continues to be an advocate for worldwide HIV awareness and testing.

November 07, 2011|By Broderick Turner
  • Legendary Lakers guard Magic Johnson is introduced by his physician, Dr. David Ho, at a news conference on the 20th anniversary of Johnson's announcement that he had contracted HIV.
Legendary Lakers guard Magic Johnson is introduced by his physician, Dr.… (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles…)

Magic Johnson stood with his trademark smile Monday in front of his family, Lakers greats, politicians and friends, all of whom had come to celebrate his life and how his revelation from 20 years ago that he was HIV-positive had received worldwide attention.

He could only shake his head and say, "I am here 20 years later…Wow! What a blessing."

On Nov. 7, 1991, Johnson announced that he was retiring from the Lakers because he had the virus that causes AIDS, and now two decades later, Johnson is happy to be the "face of this disease."

His Magic Johnson Foundation was presented a $1-million check during a luncheon at Staples Center that will help toward Johnson's goal of worldwide HIV awareness and testing.

"This is a bittersweet day," Johnson said. "Yes, I'm living, but people are still, even today as we speak, getting this virus. We must change the mind-set and we must do a better job of educating those who live in urban America, both Latino and African Americans. I dedicate my life to do that."

Johnson noted that he retired at 32, at the height of his NBA career. He had won five NBA championships and had been to nine NBA Finals.

He found the strength to move on with the rest of his life. "Without a support system, I knew I wouldn't be here 20 years from now," Johnson said.

On Monday, Johnson began his remarks by thanking his wife, Cookie, who was pregnant with their son, Earvin III, when the Lakers star announced he had HIV.

"It was devastating for both of us," Johnson said. "And I told her she could leave if she wanted to, because I understand that this is tough for us. And right when I said that, she hit me so hard and she said, 'We're going to beat this together and we're going to pray on it right now.' And honey, if it wasn't for you, I wouldn't be standing here 20 years [later]."

His other kids, son Andre and daughter Elisa, were also in the audience along with Cookie and Earvin III. Jerry West, former Lakers coach Phil Jackson and Jeanie Buss, the Lakers' executive vice president of business operations, also came to celebrate.

When Johnson began to talk about Pat Riley and Lakers owner Jerry Buss, both of whom attended the celebration, tears began to flow. Johnson gathered himself so he could thank his former teammates who were present — Kurt Rambis, James Worthy, Mitch Kupchak, Michael Cooper and A.C. Green.

Johnson also had something to say about the NBA lockout.

"I love basketball to death," Johnson said, "and I'm just hoping that they get back to playing soon, 'cause I need NBA basketball."

broderick.turner@latimes.com

twitter.com/BA_Turner

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