I will start this blog with a question. For those who like me, who are old enough to remember, “Where were YOU on November 7, 1991” when former Los Angeles Laker great Earvin “Magic” Johnson announced the unthinkable, that he had been diagnosed with HIV, the virus that caused AIDS? On that day, my mother was ill in the hospital, and I was in the hospital cafeteria with a neighbor watching the announcement.
I admit I was not a Laker fan, but I could not help but like the affable, energetic Johnson. I mean, unless you really, REALLY could not stand ANYONE on the Lakers, how could anyone not like him with his energy, and his willingness to not only take amazing shots, but to share the wealth, and be happy for the teammate.
On March 11, 2012, ESPN debuted their new ESPN FILMS documentary, “The Announcement,” directed by Nelson George. The film was narrated by Earvin “Magic” Johnson himself describing his saga. It was a well done project starting with highlights of Johnson’s career, and discussing the fact that when Magic became a big star, many Hollywood heavies, and women wanted and received access to Magic. Johnson’s wife, Cookie was interviewed, and discussed their on again, off again relationship which led to them finally marrying after Magic sowed his wild oats, as the saying goes.
During the documentary, Arsenio Hall, and Chris Rock talked about the partying atmosphere, and how people had sex and used drugs, and such, and no one thought anything of it in the 80’s, and early 90’s. In the meantime, the documentary went into the scourge caused by a new disease hitting , at first, primarily the gay community, and drug addicts. That scourge would be known as AIDS caused by the HIV virus. People went bonkers because at that people, no one knew how one acquired the virus. What was known was that you could get it via blood. The documentary showed a tiny bit of the saga with this poor student, Ryan White, and the torture he got from ill informed parents. Some protester is shown telling White to “go to hell.”
Well, soon after, Magic and his girlfriend, Cookie finally get married, and go to Paris in the fall of 1991. It is October 25, 1991, and Johnson is in Utah for a preseason game when he gets a call from the Lakers doctor telling him he has to return to LA right now. Well, Johnson goes back to L.A. and finds out that through this insurance physical test, that he has the HIV virus. He eventually tells his family, and has Cookie , who is pregnant, tested. She tests negative fortunately which means the fetus is negative.
He tells the team , and the team members are stunned. People such as former Lakers, then NY Knicks Coach Riley are told, and other friends are told. Arsenio Hall said it was a hard thing to get your mind around. Coach Riley said he sat in his chair and felt like “What did I just hear?” The team kept it secret for two weeks saying Johnson had the “flu.” On November 7, 1991, Magic makes the announcement. He told his wife Cookie, who was not crazy about the idea, that he has to be a face for the virus, so people would not be afraid.
The movie then goes into the aftermath. Magic discusses how people started treating him like an outsider. No one wanted to workout with him. No one wanted to shake his hand. When his name was still on the ballot for the All Star Game, and he was voted in, it was a big operation. There were players threatening not to play. David Stern had meetings every day for months. The NBA had to get an AIDS expert finally to calm the hysterics down. (In my opinion, that should have been done right in the beginning.). Magic not only got the all clear to play, but play he did, and he played his butt off. He won the MVP of the game. He also was on the Dream Team in 1992.
The documentary covered his attempted comeback in 1992 (the reason he initially retired was when he was diagnosed, the virus had advanced, and the strain of playing would have impacted his immune system) which ended fairly quickly in part, despite being told a million times, that everything was going to be alright, and despite the education about HIV that was just starting to happen, close minded players such as fellow teammate, Karl Malone started squawking behind Magic’s back saying they were “scared,” and “what if I get cut?” and “won’t play with Johnson.” Malone made his ignorant comment how “if you got the AIDS virus, it will be hard for me to play as hard as I am capable of playing ” with Magic on the team. Malone, in the documentary, gave his excuse of how he was a “country bumpkin” and didn’t regret saying what he said. I should mention that Malone , who is retired, does not have an NBA ring. You know what they say about Karma, right?
The film ends discussing Johnson’s enterprises and his being on President George H.W. Bush’s AIDS committee. Johnson certain was not a politician, that is for sure. The film also shows his talking with kids who have been afflicted with AIDS. The one child that was particularly touching was this six year old African American girl who was crying her eyes out. Magic told her that all she wants to do is be treated like everyone else. The girl nodded. It was so touching. The film does go into Magic’s getting involved with the Glaser fund as well. The final scenes are of the little girl as an adult who is now an AIDS Activist, Elisabeth Glaser who died in 1994 of the disease, and a photo of the Glaser’s son who is still battling it. It was a very moving piece.
I would like to give a brief personal slant on this. What also made this announcement so hard was that about 2 1/2 weeks later, the great singer, Freddie Mercury , of Queen died of AIDS. It was so sad for me. What was also very sad is to see people JUDGE these victims, as if AIDS was God punishing them for their sins. Anyone can get AIDS. When I saw that Ryan White kid in the film, it took me back to how HORRIBLY that kid was treated. I remember celebrities with a heart like Michael Jackson and Elton John, especially Elton John, coming to that kids’ side to let him know someone cares.
Yes, I know we like to bash celebrities for their money and such, but this country talks about how “Christian” it is. Was it “Christian” to tell that kid to “go to hell?” I remember the part in the film one lady saying “No one is going to kill my child.” Hmmm. I mean, at least Elton John did something to try to help White. White , like Johnson, was treated like a Leper. You know who would come down and play a game of checkers with Ryan White? Jesus. You know who would have come down to work out in a gym with Magic Johnson? Jesus. Jesus came down amongst the Lepers.
Anyway, I hope people get to see this amazing documentary.
Terri Bey currently blogs for CamelClutchBlog.com about Wrestling, NFL, and other sports/pop culture related subjects. Her work has appeared in BleacherReport and for F4WOnline.com. Terri can be found here at Facebook- http://www.facebook.com/TerriBey and at Twitter- http://www.twitter.com/missedgehead