There have been many great athletes in this century. But only one has a smile as famous as the Mona Lisa. It’s a big, wide smile that we can’t ever imagine being false. It transmits his warmth. It enables us to see into his heart. But on November 7, 1991, that smile was momentarily put on hold. In an event that may be one of the most powerful and affecting moments in the history of sports, Magic Johnson disclosed that he was HIV-positive. America grew up a lot that day—a day on which many people finally understood the full reality of AIDS.
“I think, sometimes we think, well, only gay people can get it. ‘It’s not going to happen to me’,” said Magic. “And I’m here saying that it can happen to anybody, even me, Magic Johnson.” Until that moment, AIDS was distant … over there … not in my backyard. If you’re not gay or a drug user, so the logic went, you can’t get it. Doctors warned that there were lots of ways to contract the disease, but for most people, AIDS was a problem that existed in some other world. But Magic Johnson brought it to the kitchen table.
But not even testing positive for HIV was able to wipe the smile from Magic’s face—permanently. If anything, it showed that the charismatic Mr. Johnson was vulnerable, just like any Mr. Johnson. Magic became a spokesman in the battle against AIDS, and, because of his personality, suddenly the disease seemed more significant.
He was born Earvin Johnson Jr. on August 8, 1959, in Lansing, Michigan. When he received a basketball as a present, he slept with it. Then he learned to dribble and shoot it. The nickname “Magic” came during his sophomore season at Everett High School, courtesy of a Lansing sportswriter who was dazzled by a 36-point, 18-rebound, 16-assist performance.
Johnson earned five National Basketball Association championship rings, led the Los Angeles Lakers to nine appearances in the NBA finals and was a member of the original Dream Team, winning a gold medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. During his basketball career,
Johnson also won three MVP awards and played in 12 NBA All-Star Games. Although the 40 year-old is retired from the NBA, he still regularly plays basketball on his Magic Johnson All Stars Team. The team, composed of a number of former NBA players, has traveled internationally to more than 20 countries and plays Olympic teams, professional clubs, national teams and professional league all-star teams. Together with being vice president and co-owner of the Los Angeles Lakers, Johnson is still very much part of the Laker team.
Although Johnson’s fame comes from his illustrious 13-year career in the NBA, upon retirement, he redefined himself as a businessman and a philanthropist.
He is founder and CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises, a diverse collection of companies that focus on revitalizing neglected communities and providing quality entertainment and services. In 1998, Johnson partnered with Janet Jackson and Jheryl Busby to acquire a majority interest in Founders National Bank in South Central and East Los Angeles, the only African American-owned and -operated commercial bank in California. The recipient of numerous awards and honors, Johnson was named “Entrepreneur of the Year” by the Crenshaw Chamber of Commerce, honored with the Summit 2000 Ronald H. Brown Award for Leadership, the 1998 Boston College Excellence in Community Leadership Award, the 1998 PRAME President’s Award, named one of the 100 Most Powerful People in Los Angeles, and named the 1998 United Nations Day co-chair. As a United Nations Messenger of Peace, Johnson speaks to youth about drugs, violence and other social issues of importance. As a Muscular Dystrophy Association vice president for the annual Magic Johnson Sports Star Award Dinner & Auction, Johnson helped MDA raise in excess of $1.5 million to support the Association’s projects of research, diagnosis and community service programs for the Los Angeles area. He has also worked with the Make a Wish Foundation, the United Negro College Fund, the Starlight Foundation, the American Heart Association, the Urban League and is currently on the board of trustees for the American Cancer Society Foundation.
His foundation, the Magic Johnson Foundation, is a non-profit organization that awards monetary grants to other non-profit organizations that work to improve and address the health, educational and social needs of those residing in the inner city. Some of the programs assisted by the Foundation include the National Breast Cancer Awareness Initiative, the Taylor Michaels Scholarship Fund, the BREATHE (Bringing Education on Asthma To Homes Everywhere) program, Depression Education Video, the Men’s Health Initiative and, of course, the HIV/AIDS Awareness Program.