Twenty years ago today, Earvin “Magic” Johnson told the world he’d tested positive for the virus that causes AIDS. To mark the anniversary, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation is providing free STD and HIV testing at the Earvin “Magic” Johnson Recreation Area in Willowbrook.
Johnson held the shocking afternoon presser at the Forum in Inglewood — only a day, he said, after learning he had the virus. At the time Johnson said he would never play pro ball again, but later returned to the sport and has since built a business empire in Los Angeles.
Johnson's foundation dubbed Monday Nov. 7 "Point Forward Day," a national day of awareness and action to celebrate 20 years of the impact of Johnson's announcement that he has the virus that causes AIDS.
Health officials say LA County leads the state in the number of HIV and AIDs cases. More than 16,000 LA County residents are confirmed to have HIV and more than 24,000 have AIDS. Johnson says with up to 60,000 new cases of HIV diagnosed each year in the United States, he’s committing the remainder of his life to help educate urban America about the importance of HIV testing and prevention.
Last November Johnson received the inaugural World AIDS Day Magic Award from the AIDS Healthcare Foundation. Then he echoed this original message, saying, "People really don't know that they have HIV until it's too late.
"If you properly get tested, you can live like me for a long time," Johnson said. "Normally, what happens is you catch it late and then the medicine can't help you."
Speaking to a crowded press room 20 years ago, Johnson said life would go on, but he'd miss the game.
"I'm gonna miss playing and I will now become a spokesman for the HIV virus, because I want young people to realize that they can practice safe sex. And sometimes you're a little naive about it and you think it could never happen to you." But, he said, "it can happen to anybody, even me, Magic Johnson."
Reflecting on the day he was diagnosed, Johnson told reporters the toughest thing about the news was telling his wife, Cookie.
"I told her she could leave if she wanted to," he said. "Right when I said that she hit me so hard, and she said 'We’re going to beat this together, and we’re going to pray on it right now.'"
When asked if he was scared of the often-debilitating virus, Johnson replied it wasn't about being scared, but rather perseverance. "It's another challenge," he said, "another chapter in my life. It's like your back against the wall. You just have to come out swinging, and I'm swinging."
The free STD testing will be conducted from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in two mobile vans at 905 E. El Segundo Blvd. The first 100 people taking an HIV or STD test will receive free barbecue from Earlez' Grille and free Subway gift cards.
"I know I've been blessed because million and millions of people who have died since I announced 20 years ago. This is a bittersweet day. Yes, I'm living but people are still even today as we speak getting this virus and so we must change the mindset and we must do a better job of educating those who live," Johnson said.
Watch Magic Johnson's announcement from 20 years ago: