I returned to my office after lunch last Thursday afternoon to find senior editor Roy Johnson waiting to tell mc some disturbing news. Roy had learned that Magic Johnson was retiring from basketball and the reason was that he had tested positive for the AIDS virus. I was stunned; Magic was the closest person to me to be infected with HIV, and I realized immediately that millions around the world would feel the same way for the same reason. Some good would come from Magic's courageous public acknowledgment of his plight, but it was hard at that moment to imagine what it could be.
I was fortunate to be able to call upon Roy to bring our readers Magic's story. Roy, who is not related to Magic, has known the Laker star for 12 years. In fact, Roy and I covered the amazing 1980 NBA championship series, which the Lakers won, in Magic's rookie year. "Magic and I formed a bond right away," says Roy. "We talked about everything from his business interests to his interest in the magazine business." Two years ago, the Johnsons collaborated on a book, Magic's Touch, an account of Magic's basketball experiences and his perception of the game.
The days following Magic's announcement were hectic ones for Roy. On Thursday night he took part in panel discussions about Magic on Nightline and PBS's Charlie Rose show and appeared on ESPN's SportsCenter. The next morning he flew to Los Angeles in hopes of seeing Magic, and that afternoon he visited the offices of Lon Rosen, Magic's agent, and watched as faxes and telegrams expressing affection and admiration for Magic poured in from around the world.
Roy then went to the Paramount studios in Hollywood, where he sat with Magic and recorded his story before Magic's appearance on Friday night's Arsenio Hall Show. As he waited for the taping of the show to begin, Roy was impressed with the grace with which Magic carried himself. "His agent was crying. Stagehands were crying. Everyone was asking how Magic could be so composed," says Roy. "My answer was quick: Because he was given the strength to do this."
November 18, 1991
Magic's first-person account of how he learned he was infected with HIV and of his determination to do all he can to educate others about the risk of AIDS, begins on page 16. It's the centerpiece of SI's 28-page coverage. Among the other stories is one on page 46 put together by our monthly sibling publication, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED FOR KIDS, that explains HIV and AIDS to children.
Like the rest of us, Roy will be pulling for Magic. He believes that Magic will have as big an influence on the fight against AIDS and the stigma that accompanies it as he has had on the game of basketball. "It's as if the adulation and success from his basketball career was a preparation, a way of getting the world on his side," says Roy. "It's as if this is what he was really meant to do."