He had tested positive for HIV, which is the precursor to AIDS, and the way he got the virus — though he never exactly would say how — certainly hinted at irresponsible sexual activity and arrogance. AIDS was so scary and misunderstood at the time that people — and I mean this literally — didn’t want to touch him. He retired from the NBA immediately.
Johnson had just married his wife, Cookie, who was pregnant, and at first he feared he had infected his first child with her, Earvin Jr., with the virus. But he hadn’t.
From the early 1980s, when AIDS first was identified, until maybe the early 2000s, many considered the disease a death sentence. Most of us figured Magic was a dead man walking. I think he did, too.
But he stayed healthy, taking a cocktail of drugs and exercising, while many gay men, intravenous drug users and others of both genders died. I bought Magic’s book from 1992, What You Can Do to Avoid AIDS, and read it with my irony meter on high alert. Among his statements: ‘‘The L.A. Lakers even had lectures on HIV in the locker room. I wish I had paid attention.’’
In the book, he makes his promiscuity sound almost like a life passage, a tough break but part of the deal: ‘‘I didn’t get HIV because I was a ‘bad’ person or . . . someone who ‘deserved’ it for whatever reason. I got HIV because I had unprotected sex.’’
Well, yes. And people kill others because they get blasted drunk and drive cars into other cars.
But judgment doesn’t last long in this country if you plow ahead, never quit, have a great smile, etc. All the coaching clichés are true. And nobody at the top has any shame. I think we know that.
So as you think about the despicable Sterling — if you think the fact he beat his son, Scott, constantly with a belt is enough to condemn him forever — don’t forget about second acts.
Sterling, who has cancer and is 80, likely won’t be around much longer. His curtain is closing. Then again, you never know.
Just ask Magic, the healthiest dude around.
JOHNSON’S BOOK about AIDS was part of a three-book deal his agent sold to Random House. (What, you thought it was done out of contrition?)
I read that book, too. Among the insights: ‘‘You were definitely taking a chance when you brought a strange woman up to your room. That’s because a few of them really were strange. . . . For one thing, the women weren’t as beautiful as they had seemed at first glance. For another, it eventually became clear they weren’t women at all — they were men in drag.’’
Take heed, kids. [Beloved Magic Johnson once was as reviled as Donald Sterling, By Rick Telander, May 3, 2014]