Magic Johnson and his wife Cookie. (Robyn Beck / AFP/Getty Images )
In a week when the Rutgers men’s basketball coach was fired for, among other things, hurling gay epithets at his cowed players, how refreshing to see the professional basketball world, not always known for its tolerance, come a step closer to embracing gay rights.
On Monday, the Hollywood gossip website TMZ posted a video of Magic Johnson’s 20-year-old son, Earvin “EJ” Johnson III, strolling down the Sunset Strip holding hands with another man. Johnson, a student at NYU, wore what appeared to be a furry black Persian lamb vest, and a pink quilted leather Chanel-style bag over his arm. And he was very clearly coming out, as his father later confirmed.
EJ Johnson chatted briefly with a TMZ videographer as he walked, saying he was looking forward to his father’s latest project, the remodeled Dodger Stadium. “It’ll look new and amazing,” he said. As for his father’s former team, the Lakers, he said, “They have a lot of work to do as far as I’ve heard .… I always root for my Lakers.”
When TMZ asked Magic Johnson for a comment, Johnson said, “Cookie and I love EJ and support him in every way. We’re very proud of him.”
Laker star Kobe Bryant’s response, however, may have a greater influence on professional sports, which has no openly gay players in any of the major male team sports: "Of course Magic is supportive of and loves his son,” he told TMZ. “Why should anyone be surprised? What I can’t tolerate is a lack of tolerance.”
(Just two years ago, Bryant was fined $100,000 for screaming an anti-gay slur at a referee during a game.)
Later, in an interview with TMZ founder Harvey Levin, Magic Johnson said he and his wife have known for years their son was gay.
“We finally had to sit down and talk about it,” Johnson said. “I told him, ‘Look, I’m gonna love you regardless, just let me know. Are you or aren’t you? And he finally said yes.' ”
Johnson said EJ was around 12, 13 or 14 at the time and had only discussed his sexuality with his two closest friends.
“It was I think a hard conversation only because he was so young, and what do you tell him at that age and what do you say to him?” Johnson said. “I told him ‘Hey, we are here to support you, man. We just want you to love yourself and also make sure that you have all the information …. I love EJ so much. That’s my main man.”
Magic Johnson, of course, knows about homophobia. In 1991, he stunned the world when he announced he was HIV positive. Since then, he’s been an advocate for gay rights, especially in the black community, working to defeat California’s gay marriage ban, Proposition 8, which was argued last week in the U.S. Supreme Court.
“I think he really wanted to be out, but he was torn,” Johnson told Levin. “This was a good moment for us as a family and a greater moment for him. He said, ‘This is my moment. This my time, and I am just happy to share with the world who I am.’ And I said, ‘Go EJ, Go.’ ”
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