20 years ago, November 7 1991, Earvin "Magic" Johnson lived one of the worst moments of his life (if not the worst...): in a press release he declared that he was infected from HIV and that because of this, he was withdrawing from the world of sport.
He discovered he had tested positive for HIV trying to get a life insurance. But, despite these bad news, he felt happy because neither his wife nor their unborn son were infected, and because from that moment on he would dedicate his life to "battle this deadly disease". The world of basketball was shocked and even former US President George H. W. Bush said: "For me, Magic is a hero, a hero for anyone who love sports"
Johnson initially said that that he didn´t know how he contracted the disease, but later acknoledged that it was through having multiple sexual partners during his playing career. At the time, only a small percentage of HIV-positive people had contracted from heterosexual sex and it was initially rumored that Magic Johnson was gay or bisexual. Facts he strongly denied.
Despite of this, he was voted by fans as a starter for the 1992 NBA All-Star Game, although some players argued that they would be at risk of contamination if Johnson suffered an open wound while in court. Finally, he played and the game ended after he made a last-minute three-pointer. Players from both teams ran onto the court to congratulate him.
He was also chosen to compete in 1992 Summer Olympics that took place in Barcelona (Spain) for the US Basketball team. I guess it goes without saying that the Dream Team (Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen, among others) won without any difficulty.
Nowadays, Magic Johnson's aim is to "help educate people about what HIV is about" and teach others not to "discriminate against people who have HIV and AIDS". HIV had traditionally been associated with drug addicts and homosexuals, but Johnson's campaign sought to show that the risk of infection was not limited to those groups. First, this is a preventable disease and, secondly, if you get infected, yo can learn to live with it, thanks to antiretrovirals. He has advertised GlaxoSmithKlein's drugs and partnered with Abbott Laboratories to publicize the fight against AIDS in African American Communities, specially those most vulnerable ones because they have more difficult access to health systems and information.
After announcing his infection in November 91, Johnson created The Magic Johnson Foundation to help combat HIV, although he later diversified the foundation to include other charitable goals. Through his Healthcare Foundation he has opened 7 health centers. He says proudly: "There always be great basketball players but I'm most proud of those moments of my life that affect other people, being a role model for the community"
But the actor who made a face to AIDS was none other than the great Rock Hudson, who at his death (October 20, 1985) was one of the responsibles for the collective awareness of the disease's dangers. At the beginning he tried to disguised the disease telling the people he had an inoperable liver cancer. He kept his illness a secret while continuing to work and at the same time travelling to France and other countries seeking a cure, or at least, treatment to slow the progress of the disease. It was not until July 25, 1985, while in Paris for treatment that Hudson issued a press release announcing that he was dying of AIDS. In another press release a month later, he speculated he might have contracted HIV through tranfused blood from an infected donor during his heart bypass. But, finally, People published a story that discussed his disease in the context of his homosexuality, so it became fully public.
Rock Hudson just said: "I'm not happy that I am sick. I'm not happy that I have AIDS. But if that is helping others, I can at least know that my own misfortune has had some positive worth"
One of the biggest lies of Holywood broke like a glass vase: one of the great Hollywood myths, one of the great leading men of all ages turned out to be homosexual and his marriage to his secretary, and his many affairs with other Hollywood stars turned out to be a farce.
This is the point when it is necessary to difference between being infected with HIV (Magic Johnson's case) and being sick from AIDS (Rock Hudson's case)
A person infected with HIV is HIV positive and developing AIDS occurs when their levels of lymphocytes T CD4 (cells that fight viruses) fall bellow 200 cells per millimeter in blood.
Today Magic is a symbol for hope. "I'm not still cured but HIV is lethargic in my body"
Finishing one of his conferences in a high-school, a girl, shyly, raised her hand and said: "I have no question indeed. I just want to know if I can go there and give you a hug" "And think that 20 years ago there were people who were afraid of touching me", answered one of the biggest NBA legends. 20 years later, thinking about when nobody wanted to touch him, he still remember who did.