“People With Plagues Have Been Vilified”: Magic Johnson’s Potentially Life Threatening Disease Crucified as ‘Witch Hunt’ and ‘Tragedy’ in 1992

Published 01/20/2023, 2:30 PM EST
NEW YORK, NEW YORK – OCTOBER 29: Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Chairman and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises speaks onstage during ONWARD19: The Future Of Search – Day 2 at Marriott Marquis Times Square on October 29, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Craig Barritt/Getty Images for Yext)

The life of NBA legend Magic Johnson was turned upside down when he found out about his HIV infection. After 12 seasons in the league, Magic found out about the infection during a medical ahead of his 13th season. Even though he and the Los Angeles Lakers had just lost the Finals against the Chicago Bulls, Magic’s career was nowhere near over. However, after the shocking news, he announced to the world he would be retiring from the league because of his infection. His teammates, management, and fans around the world were stunned by this.

After Johnson announced his retirement, the fans still wanted to see him play and showed their love during the NBA all-star vote. He was voted as a starter for the 1992 All-Star game. Even though some players were worried about the risk of contamination, Johnson played the game and led the West to a win.

Magic’s desire to play in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics

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Magic Johnson then revealed his desire to play in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics. But it was not well received by a few other countries. Many International basketball stars were not ready to compete against the three-time NBA MVP. Players were worried that the virus could be transmitted given the physicality of the game. Many AIDS researchers stated that the chances of transmitting the disease while playing basketball were minor.

However, many players were not ready to take that chance. As per a report from the Los Angeles Times in 1992, Dr. David Rogers, vice chairman of the National Commission on AIDS at the time talked about the fears of HIV. “It, to me, is kind of a sad witch hunt,” he said. “It’s a tragedy. It’s a senseless kind of fear.” Talking about the fears of the players, “People with plagues have been vilified over the ages,” Rogers said.

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Fear among players was a huge problem before the 1992 Summer Olympics. Despite this, Magic made the 1992 Dream Team and won the Gold medal.

Magic Johnson fought the disease and the stigma

The Los Angeles Lakers drafted Magic Johnson as the first overall pick in the 1979 NBA draft. As soon as he stepped into the league, he dominated the opponents. Magic and the Lakers were one of the best teams ever and won five NBA rings. Many argue Magic could have won more titles if it was not for the HIV infection and the early retirement.

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Even though his career was cut short, Johnson still managed to carve out his name in the history of the NBA. He has fought not just the life-threatening disease but also the surrounding stigma. Furthermore, with his foundation, he has been continuously spreading awareness about the disease around the world and helping many HIV-infected people in need of treatment.

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Bagavathi Eswaran

934 articles

Bagavathi Eswaran is an NBA writer at EssentiallySports. He has been playing the game of basketball for more than 20 years now and has also been following the NBA for more than 10 years. After not being able to go pro, this former college player decided to join the IT industry.

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