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25 years after announcing he had HIV, Magic Johnson is still celebrating life

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For Magic Johnson, Monday began with a workout.

Mundane as it seems, that Earvin was able to start the week with some cardio and weight work is, in and of itself, something of a miracle. Twenty-five years ago today, we thought we’d lost him. We thought he was gone.

[BDL at the Movies: ‘The Announcement,’ the story of Magic Johnson’s HIV disclosure]

On Nov. 7, 1991, Magic Johnson — 10-time All-Star and All-NBA selection, five-time NBA champion, three-time Most Valuable Player, one of the greatest point guards and players ever to set foot on a basketball court — stood at a podium, told the world that he’d contracted HIV, and announced his retirement from the NBA, effective immediately.

At the time, an HIV-positive diagnosis was tantamount to a death sentence, and those who contracted it were largely treated as pariahs; many thought you could catch AIDS from an HIV-positive person’s sweat, threatened HIV-positive children and threw them out of classrooms, and believed AIDS was exclusively the province of gays and drug addicts. Now, here was one of the most famous and beloved public figures in the world, saying he was One Of Them … and insisting that, no matter how terrified he was or how long the odds, he was going to press on.

“I plan on going on, living for a long time, bugging [the media], like I always have,” he said. “[…] I’m going to go on, I’m going to beat it, and and I’m going to have fun.”

A quarter-century later, he’s still standing, still waking up early and working out, still able to give thanks for the treatments he’s received and the support he’s had along the way.

That’s why today, the 25th anniversary of what at the time seemed like one of the darkest days in NBA history, is what Johnson called in a piece published Monday on his personal website “a celebration of life.”

To understand how I got to where I am today, you have to understand where I came from. Today is a celebration of life, a celebration of what some people thought was a death sentence 25 years ago. It’s a celebration of everything I’ve been through until now.

God brings you through challenges to understand His power and His purpose for your life. Life is going to have ups and downs, but it’s the humbleness you show in the good moments and the resilience you display in the bad moments that make you who you are. This is a celebration of those moments! […]

Though I had accepted my new status, telling the world was a different ordeal. In the early 1990s hearing about anyone with HIV/AIDS meant that they didn’t have long to live. I felt it was my duty to educate as many people as I could about the disease. It was then that I began my new journey to walk every day in God’s purpose. Today, I continue to do everything I can to bring awareness and education about this disease to the community.

[Follow Dunks Don’t Lie on Tumblr: The best slams from all of basketball]

Johnson has authored a remarkable second act over the last 25 years. He remained close to the game he loved, coming back to play in the 1992 All-Star Game and suiting up for “The Dream Team” in the 1992 Summer Olympics. He briefly coached the Lakers in 1994, purchased an ownership stake in the team months later, and made a short-lived comeback to the court in 1996 that allowed him to walk away from the game on his own terms, rather than due to his disease.

He’s been a talk show host (for a little while, at least), a motivational speaker, a commentator and studio analyst, and the head of a business conglomerate worth hundreds of millions of dollars. He is a part-owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Sparks and Los Angeles FC. He has raised awareness of the scourge of HIV in the black community, as well as millions of dollars for research to develop medications and treatment options.

Magic’s been so successful in so many arenas for so many years since his announcement that, as impossible as it seemed on the day of his retirement, “HIV” isn’t even necessarily the first thing people think of when they think of him, according to Bill Oram of the Orange County Register:

“Now his business career is almost defining him,” [Los Angeles Clippers head coach Doc] Rivers said. “There’s probably young people that think Magic Johnson is a businessman. That’s probably the best compliment he could ever have.” […]

“I don’t think people know him for that,” said D’Angelo Russell, who was born in the middle of Johnson’s second comeback in 1996. “When you say Magic Johnson, you know so many other things for his legacy as far as donating, the smile he had through all the downs, the winning legacy that he left behind. So, you don’t think of HIV when you think of Magic.”

Said Larry Nance Jr., 23: “I don’t think of any of that. I think of the Lakers. I think of all the amazing passes he had.” […]

The attitude among young Lakers is consistent with what [Cynthia Davis, chair of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation’s board] has found when interacting with middle and high school students.

“A lot of them currently don’t even know that Magic is HIV positive,” she said.

It’s an outcome that seemed unthinkable on that somber day in the fall of 1991. It’s what we’ve gotten, though, thanks to advancements in modern medicine — “He’s healthier than I am,” his wife, Cookie Johnson, recently told USA TODAY Sports. “I have knee problems, he has no knee problems” — no small amount of luck, and an awful lot of care and support from family, friends, former teammates, colleagues and others. Thanks to all that, and all of them, Magic’s words came to pass. He did go on. He did beat it. And he has had fun.

“Life is a gift and I thank God for blessing me the last 25 years,” Johnson wrote Monday. “I look forward to continuing this journey.”

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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