Individuals and organizations across the globe on Wednesday recognized World AIDS Day, an annual collection of activities, fundraisers and events aimed at increasing awareness of the dangers of the HIV virus and fostering discussion about methods of preventing the spread of HIV and AIDS. Fans watching their favorite teams last night saw the NBA's contributions to the day's efforts.
NBA players donned red warm-ups featuring the league's logo, the famed silhouette of the legendary Jerry West, wearing a Red Ribbon symbolizing solidarity with HIV-positive individuals on the front and a large ribbon on the back, and many wore red sneakers, headbands and other accessories in recognition of the day. On the sidelines, coaches and team personnel sported red ties for the occasion and wore red ribbons on their lapels.
The efforts also stretched past the sartorial, with breaks in league broadcasts featuring frequent airings of a commercial spot promoting the league's partnership with the Greater Than AIDS campaign to "mobilize fans, teams and local communities in response to AIDS in the United States and reduce the stigma associated with the disease." Hit the jump to watch the spot, which features NBA stars Pau Gasol(notes) of the Los Angeles Lakers, Russell Westbrook(notes) of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Al Horford(notes) of the Atlanta Hawks, as well as WNBA star Candice Wiggins.
It's commendable that Wiggins, of the WNBA's the Minnesota Lynx, was willing to discuss her personal connection to the virus — her father, former San Diego Padres and Baltimore Orioles second baseman and left-fielder Alan Wiggins, died of complications due to AIDS in January 1991, when Candice was just three years old. In a statement on the Greater Than AIDS website, Wiggins said, "When I was a kid no one talked about it. Today, I'm proud to be able to speak up for my dad and everyone else affected by this disease."
It would be even better, of course, if more prominent male players spoke up about how the disease has affected someone in their lives, but even after decades of HIV ravaging populations around the world — including African Americans, who "face the most severe burden of HIV in the United States," according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — it's a relative rarity for men with major public profiles to openly discuss their relationship to HIV and AIDS.
You'd like to think that the likelihood of players talking about it would be increased in a league that experienced, by far, the most groundbreaking and wide-ranging case of a star contracting the HIV virus when Magic Johnson announced his affliction and immediate retirement from the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA on Nov. 7, 1991, an event that did more for advancing public discussion of the disease in America than anything before it (and, arguably, since). Current Laker Gasol referenced Johnson's retirement in his statement on the Greater Than AIDS site: "It was one of those moments that stays with you your whole life, and that's why I speak out about HIV/AIDS today."
We can only hope that more stars follow that lead, but stigmas are stigmas for a reason, and breaking through them into an area of open discussion isn't easy. That's why stuff like World AIDS Day needs to keep happening, and why hugely influential multinational entities like the NBA need to continue supporting them. Little by little, we can go far.