30 years ago this week, five-time NBA champion Magic Johnson shocked the world by publicly revealing that he’d contracted the HIV virus. Many considered the illness to be a fatal diagnosis back in 1991, yet the lifelong Lakers legend defied odds by going on to not only live with but also maintain an undetectable viral load that makes it virtually impossible for him to pass the virus on.
The icon in both sports and HIV/AIDS Awareness spoke with Gayle King for CBS Mornings, speaking candidly about that unforgettable press conference on November 7, 1991 and how telling his wife, Cookie Johnson, ended up being the hardest part of the whole ordeal.
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“At that time, the only thing I knew [is] if you got AIDS you died,” Johnson says of his initial reaction to the news, which was revealed to him by Lakers team physician Dr. Michael Mellman after a routine physical exam. Following an immediate feeling of devastation that led him to asking for verification “a hundred times,” Johnson readied his response to the world by getting properly educated on his diagnosis and understanding that it wasn’t a death sentence as many believed. Still, he says nothing compared to the despair he felt telling a then-pregnant Cookie the unfortunate news.
Take a look below at how Magic Johnson described to Gayle what it was like telling his wife he’d contracted HIV, via CBS Mornings:
“It was hard because I loved her so much and I hated to hurt her. I’ve played against some of the best basketball players in the world, right? I’ve been in championships. I’ve been in nine [NBA] Finals, so I know pressure. But there was no greater pressure than driving home to tell her.
The key moment was when Cookie took the test and the results came back that she and the baby were fine. I wanted to make sure that she was going to be okay, the baby was going to be okay, and then I can move forward with making sure I was going to be okay.”
On Cookie’s behalf, who sat side-by-side with him for the interview, she remembers the decision to stick with her husband by telling Gayle, “At that time, people weren’t educated so they thought you couldn’t touch people. You couldn’t hug people. And I didn’t want people to treat us like we were lepers.”
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Watch the full interview with Magic Johnson and Cookie Johnson on CBS Mornings below, which reveals more about how she reacted to the infidelity that led to him contracting the virus and the journey since then that’s led to their mega empire today:
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