Long before he was part of the NBA Lakers, the 1992 Olympic Dream Team and the Michigan State Univer- sity team, it was obvious that when he had the ball, he made “magic” on the court. He earned his nickname when he was only a 15-year old sophomore at Lansing, Michigan’s Everett High School. When he made his first triple-double of 36 points, 18 rebounds and 16 assists, it was Fred Stabley Jr., a local sports writer for the Lansing State Journal, who first called him Magic. And when he led his team to the state champion- ships in his senior year, the nickname stuck.
Johnson’s life has always been involved in sports in one form or another. But far from becoming just a famous retired legend of the game whose life appears to stop there, his life is really comprised of four very important parts that he has always managed to combine with the same apparent effortlessness he showed on the basketball court. He has managed to integrate all the parts of his life into what appears to be a well-balanced and meaningful whole, an accomplishment that gives him an incredible amount of significance in today’s world.
We celebrated World AIDS Day this month and much of today’s public awareness about the disease and issues of safe sex and HIV testing has been the result of Johnson’s work. In addition to his storied professional sports career is his involvement in HIV education, something he vowed to devote himself to when, on November 7, 1991, he made his historic announcement that he had HIV and was retiring from basketball immediately. And on the 21st anniversary of his HIV announce- ment this November, he helped dedicate the space for the World AIDS Museum and Edu- cation Center in Fort Lauderdale, presenting them with one of his Lakers jerseys.
As a successful entrepreneur, Johnson has managed over the years to build a business empire that has been estimated to have a net worth of $700 million. And then there is the personal family man and LGBT ally.
Though some players objected, feel- ing they might be at risk for contract- ing HIV if Magic got an open wound while on the court. He was also chosen to be part of the famous U.S. men’s basketball team, now better remembered as the original “Dream Team” that won the gold medal at the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona. Although Johnson didn’t play much due to knee problems, he received standing ovations from the crowd. And he used that exposure to inspire HIV-positive people who at the time were still thought by many to be facing an unavoidable death sentence.
Johnson made a couple of basketball comebacks with the Lakers in 1994 and 1996, both as a player and a coach. With only a 5-11 record as a head coach, he left coaching and instead purchased a five percent share of the Lakers. But the desire to play competitively was always there. So between his two comebacks, in 1994 he formed a barnstorming team of former NBA and college players called the Magic Johnson All-Stars and he continued to play as frequently as possible with this team up to about 2002.