This column appeared in the State Press, the Arizona State University student newspaper, on April 22, 1997. In retrospective, big props to Julius Erving and Larry Bird should have been included in the point about the rise in popularity about the NBA.

Magic beating the odds, HIV in the game of life

By Ed Odeven

Say what you want about Michael Jordan’s amazing athleticism and ability to win the big game. But in my book the other MJ (Magic Johnson) will always be No. 1.

Growing up in the 1980s, I idolized Magic. I used to watch the Los Angeles Lakers whenever and wherever possible. It always seemed that Magic would make a game-winning pass or hit a couple free throws with two-tenths of a second left to give Los Angeles another dramatic victory. Or he would nail one of those memorable off-balance hook shots to clinch another championship.

Magic Johnson was the National Basketball Association. More than any one player, he triggered the financial success and expansion the NBA achieved in the past two decades. Sure, His Airness has taken the game to another level, but it was Magic who paved the way.

Since Johnson announced his retirement from the Lakers before the 1991-92 season, his life has been under constant public scrutiny and examination because he has HIV.

Although his so-called “retirements” always seem to be short-lived, Magic has meant a great deal to society since his original retirement. He has been an inspiration leader and role model for AIDS victims worldwide. He has donated thousands of dollars to AIDS research and will continue to do so in the future.

Magic’s trademark smile and friendly persona have always been instrumental in his popularity.

During the Harlem Globetrotters press conference Friday at America West Arena, Johnson shared the secret to happineess since acquiring the virus.

“Attitude is everything,” he said.


They say athletes are larger than life heroes. Magic certainly fits that description. His heroics have taken place on more than just hardwood courts. He has become more than just an athletic superstar. He has become a human superstar. Magic’s ongoing battle with HIV remains an inspiration for thousands of people worldwide. He has taken experimental drugs to combat the spread of HIV. Magic’s phenomenal physique and stamina have kept him in great shape.  His attitude has also played an important role in his amazing story ー his doctors believe the HIV has been reduced to almost nothing. The doctors believe there is hardly a trace of the deadly virus in his body.

In short, Magic appears to be beating the odds.

The ultimate winner, who has five (count ’em, five) NBA Championship rings and one NCAA Championship ring, is winning the game of life.

Magic’s optimistic outlook has helped him remain upbeat.

“From Day 1, I knew I was going to beat this thing,” he said. “I’ve always smiled, no matter what. I’ve always smiled.”


So what is the 11-time All-Star guard doing nowadays?

Johnson’s typical daily routine begins at 7:30 each morning with an hour-long workout. He then heads over to UCLA to play basketball from 9:30 until 11. He works in his Los Angeles office from 11:30 until 6 p.m. The evening hours are spent at home with the kids. He said he reads them a bedtime story each night. Then Magic talks with his wife Cookie before heading to bed. His future business plans include starting a late-night television show and feature film.

Despite his successful business ventures, which include various movie theaters and strip malls, Magic said basketball has always been his top thrill.

“I love basketball,” he said. “Nothing can replace the camaraderie of being one of the fellas.”

Who can blame him?

Certainly not the NBA fanatics.

“In life, as in sports, we are all dealing with a series of moments,” Globetrotters owner and chairman Mannie Jackson said.

Thanks to Johnson, many of those moments have indeed been magical.