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Magic Johnson grateful for support system in HIV fight

November 7, 2011 |  3:09 pm

Magic Johnson approached the podium, looked out into the large crowd support and soaked in the moment.

His news conference at Staples Center on Monday marked the 20th anniversary since his announcement that he would retire from the Lakers because he tested positive for the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS. The fact that he stood there remained sobering enough.

"God is so good," Johnson said. "Here I am 20 years later. Wow, what a blessing."

The general public hardly felt that way on Nov. 7, 1991. Many thought Johnson's death was imminent. Teammates began wondering how vulnerable they were in contracting the disease. Scrutiny involving Johnson's infidelities intensified.

Dr. David Ho didn't see Johnson waver one bit, admiring that he "wanted to use it as an opportunity to spread awareness about this pandemic, all of this while confronting his possible mortality." But Johnson took on this challenge, he said, thanks to a strong support system. That was evident as plenty of Lakers attended his news conference. There were former and current management (owner Jerry Buss, former general manager Jerry West, current General Manager Mitch Kupchak, Lakers executive vice president Jeanie Buss). There were former Lakers coaches (Pat Riley, Mike Dunleavy, Phil Jackson, Bill Sharman). There were former teammates (James Worthy, Michael Cooper, A.C. Green, Mychal Thompson). 

"Without a support system, I knew I wouldn't be here 20 years from now," said Johnson before presenting a $1 million check toward his foundation. "The one person who stood by my side, everything thick and thin, is my beautiful and incredible wife [Cookie]. When I think about the time I had to tell her 20 years ago, it was devastating for both of us. I told her she can leave if she wanted to because I understand it is tough for her. When I said that, she hit me so hard and said, 'We're going to be in this together.' Honey, if this wasn't for you, I wouldn't be standing here in 20 years."


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Photo: Former Laker Magic Johnson is celebrating the 20th anniversary today since announcing he was tested positive for the HIV virus. Credit: Rick Stewart, Getty Images