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‘I learned to trust in Jesus’: Magic Johnson shares reflections on living with HIV for 30 years

Magic and Cookie Johnson
Magic and Cookie Johnson speak with "CBS Mornings" co-host Gayle King to discuss their lives 30 years after the former NBA player's HIV diagnosis on Nov. 10, 2021. |

Magic Johnson expressed gratitude for his Lord and Savior earlier this month as he celebrated the many blessings he's received in life after his HIV diagnosis 30 years ago.  

“God has really blessed me,” Johnson wrote in a Nov. 7 Twitter post. “Today marks 30 years living with HIV so the message resonated with me in such a tremendous way. I thank the Lord for keeping me, giving me strength, and guiding me for 62 years but especially the last 30.”

“Through it all I learned to trust in Jesus and I learned to trust in God!” he added in a subsequent tweet

The 62-year-old former NBA Lakers point guard is a father, grandfather, businessman, philanthropist and the CEO of Magic Johnson Enterprises. During his NBA career, Johnson won five championship titles, 11 All-Star declarations and three league MVP awards. 

In an interview with “CBS Mornings” co-host Gayle King, Johnson and his wife, Cookie, discussed what it was like to receive that diagnosis at a time when the only thing most people knew about HIV and AIDS was that it could be fatal. 

At the time, Johnson said he was under the impression that an HIV diagnosis was a death sentence. It left him “devastated,” he added, because he didn't know what would lie ahead in the future for him, his wife and their unborn child.

"You just sit there and say, 'What does this mean? Am I going to die?'" Johnson told King. "I had to really learn a lot about the disease, HIV as well as AIDS. I had to make sure that I was open-minded enough to ask a lot of questions, go get a lot of information from different people.” 

Johnson said he remembered asking Dr. Mellman multiple times: “Are you sure?” Mellman responded by telling him that they had run several tests and all had come back positive for HIV, but he could potentially lead a long life if he underwent treatment and took several medications daily. 

The hardest part, Johnson said, was telling his wife about his HIV status. The couple had been married for just over 40 days and recently found out that Cookie was pregnant with their son, Earvin Johnson III. Johnson's primary concern, he added, was that he not pass the virus on to either of them.

"It was hard because I loved her so much, and I hated to hurt her," Johnson recounted, adding that he felt immense relief when his wife's and son’s HIV tests were negative. 

"I was scared to death," Johnson said. "I wanted to make sure that she was going to be OK, the baby was going to be OK, and then I could move forward with trying to make sure I was going to be OK."

Over the past 30 years, Johnson has taken a cocktail of medications as part of his daily routine. He's since reduced taking medication three times a day to only once a day. Now, he said, the virus is undetectable, meaning the anti-retroviral treatment has reduced the HIV virus to such a low level that it's not detectible by standard blood tests. 

People with an undetectable viral load are not likely to pass HIV on through sex or to a child during pregnancy. However, that doesn't mean the patient has been cured, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.  

Cookie, who King described as the epitome of the marriage vows, said her primary concern was her husband's well-being and his survival.  

"It wasn't how he got it that was important to me. It was, 'You're possibly going to die.' And that trumped everything," Cookie said, adding that she assumed he probably contracted the virus through sexual contact since he'd never had a blood transfusion. 

Even though Cookie was reluctant to attend the press conference where her husband would reveal his HIV diagnosis to the world, she went anyway and decided to wear a white suit, which she said symbolized "brightness" and "a future." 

"At that time, people weren't educated [about HIV and AIDS], so they thought you couldn't touch people, you couldn't hug people," Cookie recounted. "And I didn't want people to treat us like we were lepers."

During that Nov. 7, 1991, press conference, Johnson assured the public that he life wasn't over: “I’m going to live on. Everything is still the same. I can work out. … I’ll just have to take medication and go on from there.” 

Johnson has since become a spokesperson for HIV and AIDS awareness by launching the Magic Johnson Foundation.

In 2019, Johnson, who's now an outspoken Christian, stepped down from his role as president of operations for the Lakers so that he and his wife could devote more time to West Angeles Church of God in Christ in Los Angeles, California, according to Christian Headlines

"It's truly a blessing when you know what direction you're going in," Johnson told Charisma News at the time. "It's such a change for me because now when I go to speak to corporations, I lead off by praising the Lord. … You can touch somebody else [when you] praise the Lord."

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