Twenty years ago not many would have believed that Earvin “Magic” Johnson would become a guiding moral principal in 2013. Sadly, most of that skepticism is easily attributed to the reality that at the time few could have even imagined him alive to tell his story 20 years later.
However, more than two decades after contracting HIV, the basketball legend turned activist sat down with Anderson Cooper on CNN's AC360
last night to address HIV, homosexuality in the black community, his gay son, and the double-edge sword that has become his legacy.
In a both candid and pointed interview, Johnson spoke about his personal battle with the virus, and how his image as an HIV survivor may have shifted over time from a positive force driving education to that of a negative force inspiring complacency. Johnson, well aware of his star-power, referred to himself as "the blessing and the curse of HIV.”
"I'm the blessing because people were talking about it, they ran out and got tested at that time. Then I'm the curse because…people now say, oh well, HIV is nothing because if I get it I can be like Magic. He's doing good, and I can do the same thing he's doing or take the same medicine he's taking and I'll be okay," Johnson said. "But what they don't understand, in 22 years, millions of people have died."
Since his diagnosis in 1991, Johnson has been a driving influence helping to change attitudes, and his activism has inspired education and awareness throughout America. His focus now, as he told Cooper, is on the African American and Latino communities where infection rates of HIV are proportionally higher than any other group affected. To compound his concern, Johnson’s own son E.J. has recently come out as gay, which triggers both hope and fear in the 12-time all-star, who spent much of his early years fighting a virus alongside other HIV-positive folks, predominantly gay, white men.
Having worked with members of the LGBT community for decades, Johnson is hoping that just as he’s had their back in regard to his own activism, he hopes the “community” will help take care of his 20 year old son, picking up where his personal knowledge base lacks. "What I wanted the gay community to do for me is help my son," he said, "give him the right information, help him to grow and be a good young man. Things that I can't talk about, that I don't know about, they can help him."
When E.J. came out this year, both Johnson and his wife Cookie, both practicing Christians, faced some challenges in their own religious community. Also addressing the lack of acceptance among African-Americans in general, Johnson admitted that he and his wife are “one of the minorities in this," referring to their unwavering support for their son. "In the black community, young gay men or young ladies who are lesbians, they're afraid to tell their parents," he says.
Not only one of the greatest basketball players of all time, Johnson continues to show why he’s considered one of the greatest advocates of all time. Not just for those battling HIV, but Johnson with the help of his son, are now challenging both religious and minority communities to accept LGBT people, saying, “Tell me when it hits your own family..."
To learn more about the Magic Johnson Foundation, click HERE
Watch excerpts of the interview below.