Former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson saw his NBA career come to a sudden halt after his HIV diagnosis. It pushed Johnson into retirement due to concerns regarding his health and the safety of other players. As he attempted an NBA comeback after the 1992 Dream Team experience, a disappointing on-court experience led him to retire again.
Magic Johnson announces NBA retirement after HIV diagnosis
In his first 12 seasons, Johnson established himself as one of the game’s greatest talents.
The Lakers star led the franchise to five NBA titles in nine NBA Finals appearances while earning three regular-season MVPs, three NBA Finals MVPs, 11 All-Star selections, and 10 All-NBA team nominations. However, his world came crashing down after a medical test before the 1991-92 season revealed he contracted HIV.
Johnson immediately announced his retirement in November 1991. Although he retired from the NBA, he played for the 1992 Olympic Dream Team, where he helped guide them to a gold medal.
After that experience, his hopes of returning to play again quickly became crushed after an unforgettable on-court incident.
Magic Johnson’s NBA comeback attempt ended after an unforgettable on-court incident: ‘You could see the fear’
Beyond the overwhelming emotional reaction to Johnson’s HIV announcement, it quickly shifted over to concerns.
The Lakers star immediately retired due to uneasiness about his health but played with the 1992 Olympic Dream Team without any issues. Johnson attempted a comeback to play the 1992-93 season, but that was met with concerns and lingering fear.
During an exhibition game in October 1992 against the Cleveland Cavaliers, the five-time NBA champion suffered a cut on his arm, which quickly led to the look of “fear” on the other players’ faces.
‘Because, you know, you could see the fear upon people’s faces. Yeah, just saying, ‘OK, is it all right? Did he bandage it all? Is it all bandaged up? Is it all right? It’s not leaking?’ You know, that whole thing,'” Johnson said via UPI.
The crushing moment pushed Johnson to announce his second retirement in early November 1992. The lack of knowledge concerning HIV sprouted fear regarding the virus and its transmission. Meanwhile, Karl Malone’s public concerns only pushed the Lakers star toward retiring a second time.
‘I just felt all the controversy, people saying different things, not people outside of the NBA, but people within the NBA,’ Johnson said. ‘I just felt that it was gonna be like this all year. … And so, it wasn’t worth it because I played basketball for two reasons, the love of the game and to have fun. I have fun doing it. I was seeing that the fun part wasn’t gonna be there. And it wasn’t worth playing, then, if I wasn’t going to have fun and enjoy it.’
Johnson wanted to avoid any controversy or conflict around his health altogether. It was a tough pill to swallow, but he did what he felt was best for himself and his colleagues’ concerns.
NBA legacy remains forever intact
Johnson‘s HIV diagnosis is part of his life story, but it hasn’t altered his status in NBA history.
The former Lakers star is not only regarded as arguably the greatest point guard but also one of the game’s greatest players. He transformed the league and helped lift it to tremendous heights behind his performance and career success. His place in NBA history is cemented and only grows stronger.
Meanwhile, the diagnosis put him from and center with the virus, which he worked tirelessly to bring attention and awareness concerning the illness. He fully embraced his role in leading the efforts by creating the Magic Johnson Foundation that initially aimed at helping combat HIV.
Johnson’s life forever changed due to the virus, but it didn’t alter his place among the NBA all-time greats.