Bill Plaschke likened it to the Kennedy assassination. Though not nearly the same type of tragedy nor historical importance, Magic Johnson’s abrupt retirement from the NBA due to HIV gave the sports world a shock similar to learning of the death of a U.S. President.
I’ll never forget where I was or what I was doing twenty years ago today.
I had just got home from school when the phone rang. On the other end was the familiar voice of my father. What was unfamiliar was his tone. In a very calculated manner he instructed me to turn on the television because Magic Johnson was going to make an announcement.
Keep in mind, at this point Magic had not been participating in practice because he had “flu-like” symptoms. So in my mind Magic was just going to address the media. No big deal.
To my shock not only was Magic stepping down in his prime but he was doing so due to contracting the most infamous virus known to man.
One of the lasting images burned into my psyche was that of Marissa Topchi. She was a friend of mine in junior high and our common bond was the love of all things Laker. The next day in class she was crying. Those tears were tears of confusion.
None of us could completely comprehend what had just happened in the last 24 hours. Our basketball lives were turned upside down. Losing a fan favorite to injury was par for the course. But this…this was something we were not prepared for any way.
Nobody was ready for this news. Not even Johnson, his family, the Lakers or the NBA had a game plan in place.
As you might expect the reaction varied from acceptance to ignorance. Some sent warm feeling the way of Magic. Others shunned him for leading an unsavory life. Few truly knew much about the virus but that didn’t stop opinions from forming in the most heinous fashion.
Hard to believe 20 years have passed since that infamous moment. As we all know Magic returned to the court to prove not only that he still had his game but that he also had a message to send. That message was tolerance through knowledge.
We all learned the reality of HIV. We saw first hand that anybody can be exposed to the virus. We also learned that coming into contact with someone who is HIV positive is less dangerous than flying cross country next to someone with the common cold.
Magic’s tragedy has become one of the great lessons learned by the public. We all shared in his struggle in some way. We all become educated in many ways.
20 years later Magic is as healthy as ever and continues to be a living example to the rest of us. What was lost in the shock of the moment has been gained in the form of knowledge with each day he’s lived since that point of time that is forever frozen.
I remember vividly where I was when Magic Johnson first announced that he was stepping down. I’ll never forget that feeling. From tragedy has come a great awareness. What makes life so unique is that the moments of growth generally come from the most painful of experiences. That is the lesson I’ll never forget from this entire experience. Since that moment each day of Magic’s existence has been a testament to the blessing that is life brought forth by the power of knowledge.
Most amazing of all is that Magic Johnson continues to be a living example of tolerance, acceptance, understanding and perseverance.