On November 07, 1991, the world watched – with shock and disbelief – as basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson announced that he tested positive for HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
Questions and accusations began to flare about his sexual orientation, life-expectancy, and fidelity to his wife. At the time, HIV was commonly associated with white gay men. But Magic Johnson wasn’t white, and he wasn’t gay. He was an African American heterosexual man, and was married to a woman whose faith was greater than her fears.
When I sat down with Magic’s wife, Cookie Johnson, I couldn’t escape the conviction in her eyes. It drew me in. Everything she shared about her marriage and calling came from a deep place – somewhere that housed a tried and intimate relationship with God. He was the rock that strengthened her ... when everything was falling apart. Her answers weren’t rehearsed, nor did I suspect that someone coached her on what to say. There was depth and sincerity in her eyes.
In Beverly Hills, California, at Magic Johnson Enterprises, I occasionally smiled to myself during Mrs. Johnson’s interview. To me, a basketball enthusiast, her husband was “Magic” – the greatest National Basketball Association (NBA) point guard of all time, and one of the most accomplished players in NBA history. But to Mrs. Johnson, he was just “Earvin.” Every time I asked a question about Magic, she returned an answer about Earvin (as if the name “Magic” didn’t resonate for her). It was somewhat amusing. At moments, the fan in me wanted to shake her and ask, “Do you have any idea whom you’re married to?!?!?” – However, throughout our conversation, it became clear that she might retort, “Do you have any idea who my God is?” The matchless power she referenced belonged to God, not to the legendary Magic Johnson. There was no doubt that Mrs. Johnson loved her husband, but she was star-struck only by God.
Marsha DuCille: Looking back, what would you say was the toughest time in your life?
Cookie Johnson: It would definitely be Earvin’s diagnosis with HIV. In 1991, when people found out they had the virus, it was basically a death sentence. People didn’t understand HIV, and they were afraid they would catch it. They were afraid to touch you, talk to you, and be around you. Everyone was afraid.
MD: Were you afraid?
?CJ: I was afraid that Earvin was going to die. I wasn’t afraid of touching or being around him, but I was afraid that I also had HIV. The week before Earvin was informed that he had the virus, I found out that I was pregnant. So I was afraid for him, I was afraid for me, and I was afraid for the baby. Thank God, the baby and I didn’t have it. But when people face a crisis, they either run away from God, or they run toward Him. – And I ran toward Him. – Learning that Earvin had HIV didn’t just test my faith; it strengthened it. I ran toward the Lord because I knew there was no power bigger than His. I knew that if I ran toward God, He would help me. He had all the power.