Monday is the 20th anniversary of the shocking afternoon press conference, on live national TV from the Forum in Inglewood, when Magic Johnson announced that he had been infected with the AIDS virus and would be retiring from the Lakers, effective immediately. Johnson later returned to play again, has built a business empire in Los Angeles, and has survived to become an eminence of L.A. sports alumni as well as proof that AIDS is a manageable condition.
The AIDS Healthcare Foundation will mark the anniversary by hosting free HIV testing at Earvin Magic Johnson Recreation Area, 905 East El Segundo Blvd. in South Los Angeles, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.
Some of the media pieces around today, after the jump.
Where were you? It was 3 p.m. on the afternoon of Nov. 7, 1991, and if you lived in Los Angeles, you know where you were.
It was our Kennedy assassination moment, our Challenger space shuttle moment, a moment when the Southland lost its sports innocence.
Where were you? I was home on vacation after spending the summer covering the Dodgers for this newspaper. I was watching television while my two young children played in the background. Soon they were crying because their father was crying, and at the time I didn't even know Magic Johnson.
The greatest Laker ever announced he was retiring at age 32 because he had contracted one of the most awful diseases imaginable.
So where were you on the night of Nov. 7, 1991? I was in Madison Square Garden, watching Pat Riley bring his Knicks and the visiting Orlando Magic together to say a pregame prayer for Magic Johnson on the day Johnson revealed that he had tested positive for H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS.
That was 20 years ago Monday, and if your first thought is, ‘Oh, my, how time flies,’ consider the alternative likelihood that Johnson has relished every single day since he looked into television cameras broadcasting live around the world and said, “Because of the H.I.V. virus that I have attained, I will have to retire from the Lakers today.”
Yes, the verb was mangled, but that was part of Johnson’s charm, his standing — then and now — as the most positive force of energy to ever hit professional basketball. He was 32 and tried to be upbeat that day, flashing the trademark smile that Johnson’s friends and colleagues feared they wouldn’t see for long.
“All of us thought it was a death sentence,” Riley said.
His disclosure became a serious game changer. It prompted people who had never thought they were at risk to get tested; it encouraged people to educate themselves about HIV transmission and safer sex; and it lessened stigma and emboldened others to be open with their own HIV status.
"Listen, I can't tell you what's going on. Just be there. This is gonna change all of our lives."
These were the words of Lakers head athletic trainer Gary Vitti as he instructed members of the 1992 Lakers to attend a mandatory meeting at the Forum on November 7, 1991. Among a select few sworn to secrecy, Vitti couldn't reveal the reason: Magic Johnson needed to tell his teammates about testing HIV-positive. Shortly after, Johnson would tell the world.
The day did change lives, and well beyond those in the Laker family.
On Monday night, ESPN Classic devotes prime time to Johnson with a documentary film, followed by an old interview with Roy Firestone and a "Homecoming with Rick Reilly" taped last year at Michigan state, where Johnson starred.