On Nov. 7, 1991, Earvin “Magic” Johnson retired for the first time after announcing that he had contracted HIV. Johnson was still in his prime, coming off a season where he was an All-Star for the 11th time and led the Los Angeles Lakers to the finals where they lost to Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. The news shocked the basketball world with one of the greats having to call an amazing career short.
The first report of HIV was in 1981, but there was little to no knowledge of how the disease would affect someone or if it was contagious. HIV was also viewed as something only people who were gay could contract, so although the Lakers guard was married to his wife, rumors about his sexuality spread.
The retirement was not the end of Johnson’s basketball career. David Stern and the league gave Johnson a great sendoff. He was invited to play in the 1992 NBA All-Star game where he won the MVP. Johnson then played Olympic basketball on one of the greatest teams of all time, The Dream Team. After they won the gold medal, rumors and speculation of whether the point guard would return for the 1992-93 NBA season heated up. Johnson played in over half of the Lakers preseason games, but concerns from players and others around the league caused Johnson to cut the comeback short.
During the 1993-94 season, Johnson returned to the Lakers as their interim head coach late in the season, becoming the 11th person to coach the Lakers. With the legendary point guard at the helm, the Lakers went 5-11 on the year before he announced that he did not plan on returning as the head coach for the following season.
Johnson made his return as a player playing off the bench on Jan. 29, 1996 in a regular-season game vs. the Golden State Warriors. In the 32 games he played that season, he averaged 14.6 points, 6.9 assists, and 5.7 rebounds. After that he called it a career, ending it on his terms.
Johnson left an impact both on and off the court. As a player he was a 12–time All-Star, 3–time MVP and led the Lakers to winning five NBA championships. Johnson paved the way for current NBA players like LeBron James and Kevin Durant with his prolific size and playmaking abilities. With everything he accomplished playing basketball, Johnson may have done more off the court.
When he retired, Johnson became the face of the HIV epidemic. He created the Magic Johnson Foundation in 1991 to help communities that are often overlooked. They spread the message of safe sex and make sure that everyone has the ability to get tested. Johnson also became the first Black owner of a Major League Baseball franchise. No matter if Magic Johnson is playing basketball or not, he has always left greatness behind.