Nearly 20 years after learning that he had tested HIV-positive, and 20 years after his initial retirement from the Los Angeles Lakers, Magic Johnson has a major regret. He wishes he hadn't retired from the Lakers directly after learning of his diagnosis. And, knowing what we know now about the virus, he's probably right. Magic could have kept playing.
Two things are important to remember, 20 years later. First, to the uninitiated, testing positive for HIV back in 1991 seemed like a sure death sentence. I recall sports-talk radio hosts, not shock jocks, hoping Magic would survive long enough to see his NBA friends play in the 1992 Olympics some 10 months later. Even though a goodly chunk of the public knew that, with proper attention, Magic wasn't putting teammates or opponents at risk by playing NBA hoops with HIV, retirement seemed like the only possible step after a diagnosis like this.
Secondly, though he was by no means the transition demon that helped lead the Showtime Lakers to five championships in the 1980s, Magic was still playing brilliant basketball. He contributed a PER of over 25 during the Lakers' 1990-91 season, a campaign that saw his team fall in the Finals to the Chicago Bulls. Johnson averaged over 19 points with 12.5 assists and seven rebounds a game, numbers made all the more impressive when you find out that the Lakers worked the third-slowest pace in the NBA that season. He wasn't in his prime, but he was just a half of a half-step removed from his prime. And that's Magic Johnson's prime that we're talking about.
Here's Magic's take on his struggle, in talking to the Los Angeles Times' Bill Plaschke, and his regretted decision: